Broadway’s power brokers took time out from Tony season this week to fly to London to see “Cinderella,” the new musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The heat is intense on this one, not only because Lloyd Webber is the most successful composer in theater history, but because his collaborator is Emerald Fennell, the actress (“Call the Midwife”) and writer. (She’s overseeing the second season of “Killing Eve.”)
They and lyricist David Zippel (“City of Angels”) have given “Cinderella” a modern twist. It’s still set in the land of castles and fairy godmothers, but the title character doesn’t need a Prince Charming to fulfill her needs. In this retelling, Prince Charming is gay, and runs off with a duke. Cinderella falls in love with Sebastian, an adorable oddball.
Lloyd Webber usually premieres his new shows at Sydmonton, his vast estate outside London. But “Cinderella” is being showcased at Lloyd Webber’s the Other Palace, a 300-seat theater just around the corner from the palace: Buckingham. The tight space means that some VIPs are on a waitlist. “Everybody’s dying to get in,” says someone who can usually snap his fingers and get a seat to anything. There were only three performances — Wednesday, Thursday and Friday — and bulletins were arriving as I wrote this.
So far, so very good. The score is Lloyd Webber at his most melodic, Zippel’s lyrics are funny and Fennell’s script witty and poignant, evoking, one person says, the best of the classic Disney movies. A five-piece band accompanied the actors, but through Lloyd Webber’s state-of-the-art system, it “sounded like a 50-piece orchestra,” a source says.
The VIPs who did score seats include the Shuberts, the Nederlanders, producer Scott Rudin, Disney Theatrical head Tom Schumacher, actor Michael Caine and various producers and theater owners who book shows throughout the United States.
“It feels like the Broadway League conference, but with better food and wine,” says a source.
In tackling “Cinderella,” Lloyd Webber follows in the footsteps of his hero, Richard Rodgers, who, with Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote the celebrated 1957 TV version starring Julie Andrews. Douglas Carter Beane adapted the old TV show for Broadway in 2013. Santino Fontana, up for a Tony for “Tootsie,” played Prince Charming.
The Broadway VIPs are eager to meet Fennell, who’ll play Camilla Parker Bowles on the next season of “The Crown.” She’s so hot right now that when some of the New Yorkers got off the plane Thursday morning, they saw her on the front page of the Times of London.
No word yet on the future of “Cinderella.” It could go to the West End and then to Broadway, but I’m also hearing there’s a possibility of a Netflix series.
Or how about a live broadcast on one of the networks? NBC had a big hit with its “Jesus Christ Superstar” last year. I envision a reality casting show looking for an unknown to play Cinderella on the live broadcast and then on Broadway.
Lloyd Webber would be the über judge, of course, but if he needs to fill out the rest of the panel, I’m available.
You can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR radio 710.