What the ’ella?
For a musical with the drunken confidence to slap the word “Bad” in front of a classic title, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Bad Cinderella,” which opened Thursday night on Broadway, doesn’t have much in the way of ‘tude and swagger onstage. Or brain cells.
2 and a half hours with one intermission. At the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street.
It’s a mess with multiple personality disorder. From start to finish during this perplexing and often dull fairytale spin — and, oh, does it spin — you’re never entirely sure what you’re watching or why you’re watching it.
It’s part cutesy, Nickelodeon-style teen comedy: A vapid character remarks on someone’s looks, “It’s giving peasant! It’s giving rags!” And Cinderella’s romance with her geeky prince is reduced to a “friend zone,” does-he-like-me miscommunication. The love story at the center has no drama.
Then there are Lloyd Webber’s lushly orchestrated and tuneful ballads, which — all chandeliers aside — are why we come to any show by him. The wonderful song “Only You, Lonely You,” sung not by Cinderella but by Prince Sebastian (Jordan Dobson), is the single best moment of the musical, which is unfortunate because it happens during the first 25 minutes.
Cinderella’s “I Know I Have A Heart (Because You Broke It)” and “Far Too Late” are pretty — the too-wordy lyrics are by David Zippel — but there’s no powerful narrative build to help them soar like they should.
Not excited by ballads or teen flirting? “Bad Cinderella” is also a Chippendales strip show. A fun-enough horde of shirtless beefcakes called the Hunks dance, thrust, do push-ups and lift weights.
If you’re confused, that’s OK. So am I. Collectively, the musical makes as much sense as “The Rum Tum Tugger” on an endless loop.
I first saw the show in London back in fall of 2021, and for 17 head-scratching months I’ve been asking myself: What exactly makes Cinderella so bad?
The edgy title is misleading. With a terrible book of meme quotes by “Promising Young Woman” writer-director Emerald Fennell, “Bad Cinderella” is really about society’s unfair beauty standards. But they couldn’t very well call it “Not-Blonde Cinderella.”
The musical is obsessed with looks: It’s set in a hamlet called Belleville (beautiful town en Francais), the opening number sung by its residents is “Beauty Is Our Duty,” and the fairy godmother (Christina Acosta Robinson) is now a ridiculous magic-free plastic surgeon who sings a number called “Beauty Has a Price” before she sort-of operates on Cinderella.
Appropriately, the sultry costumes by Gabriela Tylesova, better than they were in the West End, could conceivably be rented out to a “Beauty and the Beast” porno.
Still, because outcast Cinders is herself dressed like a supporting character from “The Mandalorian,” she is nicknamed “Bad Cinderella” by the nasty villagers. She’s a reject Hester Prynne, only with a scarlet “B” and not enough personality or meaningful character development to carry a 2 1//2-hour show.
Her one rebel move comes at the beginning when she defaces a memorial statue of Sebastian’s older brother, Prince Charming, who has just died in a war, with a sign that says, “Beauty Sucks.” They definitely couldn’t call it “Smart Cinderella.”
In the title role, an appealing Linedy Genao tries to give the girl some gusto. Every line is delivered confrontationally, even when it doesn’t make much sense to do so, but the material is floss-thin and the character inherently lacks star quality.
That’s especially true in her early song “Easy To Be Me,” where Cinderella explains how she wants to move somewhere she can be herself and “where nobody will roll their eyes.” It’s a quiet, wishy-washy tune without the burning desire of “Some People” from “Gypsy” or “I’ll Know” from “Guys and Dolls.” Her life’s dream is a shrug — and so is her story.
After Prince Charming dies, Sebastian is forced by his mother, the Queen (Grace McLean), to find a wife at a ball and then have a royal wedding. “Invite every girl in the kingdom, and charge VIP access!” goes one of the lame lines. Seb and Cinders have been best friends since childhood, and she’s upset when he wants her to join him at the party “as a friend.”
But Cinderella’s stepmother (Carolee Carmello) blackmails the Queen with sordid details of her past to get the ring on one of her horrible daughters, Adele (Sami Gayle) and Marie (Morgan Higgins).
McLean and Carmello enjoyably yuk it up with supersize socialite personas; however, there is not one big laugh in this entire show. “Bad Cinderella” is content with being silly, not funny.
Or particularly romantic. Cinderella and Sebastian spending their future together garners, at best, casual support from the audience, and the ending is full-on wacko.
Lloyd Webber’s music — some, not all — is the show’s redeeming element. The direction and design left me cold again. Tylesova’s set of creepy roots and twigs is attractive, but feels miles away from, say, a whimsical plastic surgery scene or a group of shirtless warriors getting cat-called.
And director Laurence Connor is no Hal Prince or Trevor Nunn. He almost never stops spinning his onstage turntable, in hopes of hypnotizing the audience into actually enjoying themselves.
This isn’t Lloyd Webber’s worst musical. There aren’t any trains-on-roller-skates (from “Starlight Express”) and we thankfully don’t have to listen to the song “Seeing Is Believing” (from “Aspects of Love”) for minutes on end. We’re not talking “Love Never Dies” here.
But Bad Cinderella would have been better off staying home than going to the ball.
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