ANDREW LLOYD WEBER’S BAD CINDERELLA - Not a good kind of bad.
Andrew Lloyd Webers’ new musical BAD CINDERELLA is a cartoon, which is animated not from story, character or score but from spectacular production design (more about that later). Weber’s Cinderella character isn’t all that bad; she’s still stuck in a household dominated by her stepmother and stepsisters. Her offense is that she's not as cool or fashionable as not only them but also the rest of the town of Belleville proclaimed by the ensemble in the opening number "Beauty is Our Duty”. Her juvenile shenanigan is hanging a banner on a town square statue of the adored Prince Charming, who has presumably disappeared at war, that declares “Beauty Sucks”. Otherwise, this Cinderella, dutifully performed and sung by Linedy Genao (last seen on Broadway in “Dear Evan Hansen”) is fed up with the vacuity of her step-family and town’s “beautiful people” who serve as its sycophants to the court. Who wouldn’t be?
In this retelling, hammered out by Emerald Fennell (lead writer on cable’s “Killing Eve”), Cinderella finds a fellow misfit in Prince Sebastian, the unheroic, meek, younger brother of the absent Prince Charming. Sebastian is as disinterested in succeeding to the throne as he is about finding a Princess among the town’s vulgar candidates. He and Cinderella were childhood playmates. Although a plot twist drops very late in the show (no spoiler here), there’s little doubt about the inevitable conclusion.
Cinderella and Prince Sebastian, also dutifully played and sung by Jordan Dobson (who played Tony in Ivo Van Hove’s short-lived “West Side Story”), are the only two characters who play it straight. Every other character - even the ensemble - ham it up, mug for the audience and or engage in obvious stage antics, all at the explicit direction of Laurence Connor, who has toiled loyally before for Mr. Weber, mostly in his London productions. The dances by veteran Broadway choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter, are very busy, and punctuated by a subset of the male ensemble called The Hunks. Costumed in PG-rated black leather and spandex, they are muscle buddies of Prince Charming. Their dance maneuvers only suggest what Chippendale dancers achieve all the time. Even with one of The Hunks flexing his pecs in beat with the music, it’s not naughty. It’s just silly.
As for Weber’s score, Cinderella’s ballads all sound pretty similar, weighted down by David Zippel’s unoriginal lyrics like “I know I have a heart because you broke it.” Dobson gets a decent solo ballad with “Only You, Lonely You”, which mildly recalls the melodic best of Weber’s romantic canon. There’s a weakly comedic, tuneful little duet called “I Know You” between the Queen and the Stepmother, in which two seasoned musical theater divas (Grace McLean and Carolee Carmello) make the best of cliched bitch-fest.
What’s outstanding about “Bad Cinderella” - and really keeps it in motion - is the production design, defined by the scenery and costumes by Czech-born Gabriela Tylesova. Her imaginative design informed by an Eastern-European visual sensitivity, combines elements of Art Nouveau (best exemplified by an electronic, bluish-purple scrim surrounded by curvilinear branches and gilt ornamentation) and motifs that recall children-book illustrations from the likes of Rackham to Sendak. The scenery - multiple turntables and multi-dimensional sets that slide-in and drop-down - give the story motion absent from Fennell’s book. The costumes - particularly the gowns for the ball and wedding scene (the petticoats!) - are fantastical, uber-Technicolor (almost neon), eye-popping, Dali-esque, multi-textured creations. Tylseova’s visual style imbues Weber’s “Bad Cinderella” with not only traditional fairy-tale magic but also a quirky wit, but it can’t give the show a personality it sorely lacks.