Cinderella review – Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical opens in the West End
Emerald Fennell supplies the book in this winning show, with Carrie Hope Fletcher in the titular role
You've got to hand it to Andrew Lloyd Webber. He doesn't give up. He's been trying to get his version of Cinderella on stage for well over a year now, battling through lockdown, a pandemic and a pingdemic which kept closing the show just as it staggered into the theatre. No wonder he looked relieved as he bounced onto the stage and announced that barring asteroid strike this really was the opening night.
By the end, the audience was bouncing too. Cinderella isn't going to win any awards for subtlety – it features a dance routine where muscled men heave golden balls around while making jokes about being well equipped, for goodness sake – but it's colourful, energetic and a huge amount of fun. It also, crucially, has a good heart and some sumptuous tunes, which makes you forgive its failings.
The book is by Emerald Fennell, of Killing Eve and Promising Young Woman fame, and as you might expect she turns everything on its head. Cinderella is the only Goth in Belleville, a town which prides itself on being the most beautiful in the world. According to David Zippel's outrageous and witty lyrics, sung by a chorus of milkmaids and half-naked bakers, there's "not one dimple in sight/not an ounce of cellulite".
She's been loved from childhood by soppy Prince Sebastian, who has been forced to step up as heir to the throne because his older brother Prince Charming has gone AWOL. The plot gets sillier from that point on, but it doesn't really matter because it's just an excuse to have a romp around. What does matter is that Carrie Hope Fletcher is perfectly cast as Cinderella.
The former star of Heathers has just the right amount of self-assertive bolshiness and sweetness to make her entirely endearing. She also sings like a dream. Her Sebastian is played by Ivano Turco, straight out of drama school, with a hesitant smile and a gentle presence. Together these star crossed lovers give heart to a show that could have seemed cynical.
They are gifted some huge Andrew Lloyd Webber ballads with which to express their feelings; he could probably write these in his sleep but there is a loveliness to them, particularly "Only You, Lonely You" (for him) and "Far Too Late" (for her), a melancholy melody that is accompanied initially and gorgeously only by piano.
You can feel Lloyd Webber having fun with this score; there's a fabulous swirling waltz in the ballroom scene, when Laurence Connor's energetic direction sets the whole of the front stalls spinning round the stage, like a giant waltzer. The entrance to the concluding wedding scene has a fairground energy in its orchestration; the songs for the townsfolk are neat parodies of different styles. My own favourite, sung in quite the sharpest and best scene, is "I Know You", a little French-tinged number, in which Cinderella's social climbing stepmother (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) attempts to blackmail the Queen (Rebecca Trehearn) with her knowledge of her past.
Both women are absolutely terrific. Hamilton-Barritt steals the show throughout, looking like a sad-faced Toulouse Lautrec lithograph, her hunched shoulders and jutting jaw revealing the sheer force of her ambition, her preposterously elaborate outfits failing to disguise the naked lust for power beneath. She's wonderfully funny, with perfect timing. "The only thing I've learnt from you is to be a completely heartless bitch," spits Cinderella. Hamilton Barritt waits a long beat. "I can't take all the credit, you're a natural." Trehearn too proves her comic talent, as do Georgina Castle and Laura Baldwin as the two dim stepsisters, though they aren't given quite enough to do.
All the women, and most of the men, are dressed to the nines in Gabriela Tylesova's elegantly elaborate costumes, with massive wigs, frills, and bright chiffon adding to the overall effect of riot.
Not everything works. The reconfiguring of the Godmother as a plastic surgeon (though she is played with winning verve by Gloria Onitiri) is rather odd and there's something not-quite worked through about Cinderella's desire to be beautiful and conform in order to win a man she knows and trusts. The choreography is obvious rather than playful, and the evening could usefully lose 20 minutes in length, without sacrificing any of its impact.
Nevertheless, it would be churlish to welcome this Cinderella with anything other than pleasure. It was worth waiting for.