To get the obvious question out of the way: Is “Bad Cinderella” actually bad? That’s not the adjective that best describes what’s on stage at the Imperial Theater; inept, confused, oddly sincere, ridiculously campy, mostly disappointing and intermittently entertaining are descriptions that more come quickly to mind!
Moreover, these words are even more perplexing given that the musical has been created by such talented people as Tony Award winners Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and David Zippel (lyrics) and Oscar winner Emerald Fennell (book). Perhaps, in this case, three heads – not to mention director Laurence Connor and choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter – are not better than one.
The show’s conceit, laid out in an expansive opening number “Beauty Is Our Duty,” isn’t half-bad. Cinderella (Linedy Genao) lives in Belleville, a French town obsessed with physical appearance above all else. The local women – including its overly flirtatious and vain Queen (a very amusing Grace McLean) -- are thin, cosmetically enhanced bimbos who value fashion and face above all else; the men, for their part, obviously spend most of their time at the local gym, sculpting their bodies – especially the mind-boggling pectoral muscles they usually have on full display.
Our heroine is different. While naturally pretty (which makes little sense plot-wise), she’s content to walk around in a (fairly chic) leather coat (the costumes and wood-based sets are by Gabriela Tylesova) and somewhat messy hair. Her time is mostly spent neither sweeping nor talking to birds but decrying her disdain for the other townsfolk – especially her cruel, uppity stepmother (the divine Carolee Carmello -- once again engaging in petty larceny by walking away with the show) and her ditzy stepsisters Adele (Sami Gayle) and Marie (Morgan Higgins).
Meanwhile, Cinderella’s lack of vanity and outspoken nature has become the basis of a lifelong friendship – and unspoken love – with Prince Sebastian (the appealing Jordan Dobson). He is ordered to suddenly take a bride by his mother, who has given up on the return of Sebastian’s more popular brother, Prince Charming, (who has been missing from the kingdom for a year) and who believes a royal wedding will be a “distraction” from possible revolution. (Yeah, there’s nothing brewing here, not even coffee!)
The townswomen find Sebastian unattractive (which also makes no sense) and deeply uncharismatic (he’s really just a bit shy), but they make every effort to snare him to gain the crown. And while eventually– slight spoiler – we see the many differences between Sebastian and his older sibling (a super-buff Cameron Loyal, quasi-channeling The Rock), it’s still clear Sebastian has gotten a bit of a raw deal in Belleville.
It shouldn’t matter, though, since Sebastian has already found his soulmate and tells Cinderella so during their own special moment in the woods. Therefore, her decision to undergo a physical transformation before the royal ball – to look like everyone else -- via the “magic” of the town’s Godmother (a powerful Christina Acosta Robinson) defies logic. True, if Cinderella acted as she “should,” there might be no second act. And that, honestly, would be no great loss.
Fennell’s book is only a small part of the show’s failings, though. Webber can usually be counted on for a few good songs, especially a soaring male ballad. Here only Dobson’s “Only You, Lonely You” fits that bill, but it’s not in the same league as “Music of the Night” or “Love Changes Everything.”
Meanwhile, he’s saddled Genao – a reasonably strong singer and decidedly underwhelming, one-note actress – with a series of rangy pop-ballads, vaguely reminiscent in style (if not substance) of Patti LuPone’s repertoire from “Evita.” Like in a Disney movie, these songs – such as “Easy to Be Me” and “Far Too Late” -- would make more of an impression if they were reprised over the “end credits” by Christina Aguilera (who might be a far better choice for the star part).
Perhaps my favorite song is the snarky duet “I Know You,” performed with delicious glee by McLean and Carmello. However, if you listen closely to Zippel’s lyrics (both here and elsewhere), you realize the actresses are supposed to be contemporaries – and they’re simply not!
To quote another song title in the show, “Beauty Has a Price.” Well, so do theater tickets – which are especially steep these days. Sadly, your money can be spent better elsewhere than on this unnecessary (and, for the record, not all-that-child-friendly) take on the classic fairy tale.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Linedy Genao, Carolee Carmello, Grace McLean, Jordan Dobson, Morgan Higgins, Sami Gayle, Christina Acosta Robinson, Savy Jackson, Raymond Baynard, Michael Baerga, Lauren Boyd, Tristen Buettel, Kaleigh Cronin, Josh Drake, Ben Lanham, Angel Lozada, Cameron Loyal, Mariah Lyttle, Sarah Meahl, Christian Probst, Larkin Reilly, Julio Rey, Lily Rose, J. Savage, Tregony Shepherd, Dave Schoonover, Paige Smallwood, and Aléna Watters, Alyssa Carol, Gary Cooper, Robin Masella, Michael Milkanin, Chloe Nadon-Enriquez, Lucas Thompson
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