Midnight Madness: “Bad Cinderella” reviewed
The Vegas-ification of Broadway continues this season. No, this is not a slight against bombastic shows with flashy numbers and greased-up chorus boys and girls dancing to pop tunes, either real or approximated; it’s just a declaration of fact. Earlier, this season brought us & Juliet, a tribute to the Max Martin catalog in the form of female empowerment. Now, fresh from a successful West End run comes Bad Cinderella, a grab-bag of half-baked ideas and missed opportunities that don’t offer a new take on the tale.
Across the pond, the musical was still called just Cinderella; though the title has changed, I’m not sure the plot has followed. Emerald Fennell, the Oscar-winning writer (and director) of Promising Young Woman, has fussed with the basics and that’s abut it. Cinderella (Linedy Genao) is still put-upon, but now grungy. Her worst infraction as the show begins is to deface a statue of the presumed-dead Prince Charming, who is missed the most by his mother, the Queen (Grace McLean) – who bemoans her loss in the crazy up-tempo number “Man’s Man,” the most Oedipal ode to filial loss I’ve ever seen.
Prince Charming’s surviving younger brother, Sebastian (Jordan Dobson), is smitten with Cinderella, but both are too proud to admit it. When the Queen decides to throw a ball and marry off Sebastian in order to carry on their lineage pronto, Cinderella’s evil stepmother (Carolee Carmello) and stepsisters, Adele and Marie (Sami Gayle and Morgan Higgins), aim to claim the throne.
Not so different from the basic tale, right? Fennell hasn’t fussed around nearly enough, and the changes she does make feel unartful, or, how should I say it? Half-assed. Eventually a Godmother (Christina Acosta Robinson) enters the story, completely gratuitously. She barters with Cinderella for a necklace and warns about the danger of staying out past midnight, and neither of these materializes into a plot element in the second act.
The main reasons to see Bad Cinderella are the same ones to see virtually any incarnation of the story: the costumes (here, designed by Gabriela Tylesova with wigs by Luc Verschueren), and the music. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has contributed some fine songs, with lyrics more contemporary than catchy from David Zippel. Some are actually quite lovely, and the cast – especially Dobson – gives them their due.
But if Fennell thought she was being clever here, she’s mistaken. Let’s hope this is either an aberration or a one-time case of laziness. I’d hate for this young woman to lose out on all of her promise.