Bye bye Belleville – how Cinderella never got its fairytale ending
The show completes its run this weekend
I won't forget the moment I knew things were going horribly wrong during the early part of 2020 – an experience brought on in part by Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical Cinderella.
Travelling back through the rain from a Young Vic press launch after hours, I looked at my water-streaked phone. A press release: Cinderella is delaying its opening by a few months. The lurch of fear came even as I typed up the portentous article: this Covid thing might really be causing a bit of a mare.
We all know what followed. Over the next couple of years, Lloyd Webber embarked on a crusade to get theatres back open with Cinderella at the focal point – "the first world premiere of a new musical in this country since the pandemic", it was proclaimed.
The man would not be stopped, from testing high-tech sterilisation machines, threatening to have himself jailed or taking the government to court, there was a mighty publicity machine keeping Cinderella in public consciousness even while the pandemic kept punters out of auditoria. One day, there'll be a Heart of Darkness-style film ready to be made out of the saga. Extra kudos must go to the PR teams staying on top of it all. Even the show's opening nights, staggered across months and disrupted by an embargo-breaking Sunday Times review, added to the manic sense of chaos that epitomised those early months of venues finding their feet and welcoming audiences back.
But, thankfully, Cinderella did open – with the dazzle of a spinning stage, lavish costumes and a fairly witty book courtesy of Hollywood rising star Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman). The critics were, on the whole, pretty positive – Lloyd Webber doubling down on solid work after an equally well-received School of Rock.
That didn't stop the rollercoaster saga that continued over the subsequent months – a sub-par New York Post review reportedly rocked the good boat Belleville as it set its sights on the Great White Way, while the winter rise in Covid cases saw another protracted period of the closure. A marketing rebrand, just in time for Valentine's Day, was meant to course-correct, but bad news came with a solo Olivier Awards nomination (for the utterly deserving Victoria Hamilton-Barritt). This raised a few eyebrows – considering Cinderella was the only musical with a completely original score eligible.
Then, there was the bruising, sudden announcement last month that the show was to shut down. It left dozens of freshly acquired cast members in the lurch, many of whom subsequently voicing their frustration on social media. Compared to Dear Evan Hansen's classy closing notice, this again brought back memories of that heady inertia from spring 2020. Time to hang up the heels – Belleville's London days are bust.
As someone prone to find positives in even the most melancholic moments, there are a few here to cherish – namely the work of a top-tier company. Beyond Hamilton-Barritt's excellence, Cinderella represented career-best work from Carrie Hope Fletcher, originating a role for the first time with effortless poise. Her performances of top-notch numbers "I Know I Have a Heart" and "Far Too Late" are some of the best you'll hear on a West End stage in 2022. At the same time, she's surrounded by a mesmerising cast, many of whom are newcomers, now ready to take big strides into big new roles – be it Caleb Roberts in Tina over at the Aldwych, Laura Baldwin in Carousel and more. It'll be particularly exciting to see what new leading man Ivano Turco tackles next.
The show completes its time in London this weekend, but Cinderella is far from finished – Lloyd Webber has said he intends to rework the material before landing it in New York in the next 12 months. Belleville on Broadway awaits – where this story may finally get a fairytale finish.