The royal wedding in ‘Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella’ is a groundbreaking moment in musical theatre history
If you grew up reading and watching fairy tales, it’s likely you’ll know the ins and outs of the Cinderella story. The narrative usually follows a young woman as she meets and marries the man of her dreams, with a little help from a fairy godmother. It’s a popular story choice: numerous theatres stage Cinderella pantomimes, and there are many musicals which feature a Cinderella-inspired character.
But how can you transform Cinderella into a new idea to make it stand out among the rest? Answer: add in a wedding — with a twist.
“The Cinderella associate director said this might be one of the first weddings in this style in a musical, so it could be quite groundbreaking,” said Caleb Roberts, who plays Charming in the West End production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. We won’t spoil what happens here, but the pivotal scene definitely makes this a Cinderella to remember.
We chatted with members of the Cinderella cast about the royal wedding, its public reaction, and the importance of reinventing stories.
The Cinderella royal wedding is spectacular
In the majority of Cinderella adaptations, the title princess finds the man of her dreams at a ball, but is forced to run away when midnight strikes. She then reunites with her Prince Charming after his long search for the glass-slipper wearer and the pair marry.
But in this Cinderella, which features a book by Oscar-winner Emerald Fennell, the wedded couple aren’t who you might expect. This Prince Charming is unconventional compared to other Cinderella stories, however the romance twist is contemporary and exciting.
“On the first night, it was like a concert atmosphere and people went crazy,” recalled Roberts. “When you rehearse something, you don’t have an audience and you don’t really know what will land and how it will be taken. What this wedding represents in musicals speaks to so many people in that audience that might have had a difficult time with their sexuality.”
By starring in Cinderella, Roberts hopes his Charming inspires a future generation to feel that it’s okay to be their authentic self. The Prince doesn’t appear until the second act, so audiences may make up their minds prior to his first moment onstage. But Roberts wants to break down preconceived notions of what a “Prince Charming” character is.
“In this show, Prince Charming is looked upon as a god of man: really masculine, really aggressive, and [he] can do anything he wants,” Roberts explained. “He’s a fighter. It isn’t too dissimilar to what many boys have grown up with and what they aspire to be like – rightly or wrongly. The idea behind what happens at the end is to [tell] the audience, the world, that you can be who you want to be and you don’t have to feel shame about that. Everyone is different and everyone feels the way they feel – and that’s OK.”
The royal wedding scene tugs at the cast’s heartstrings too. They get to witness the audience react and accept the new storyline, their cheers and claps making this fresh Cinderella worthwhile. “Ninety-nine per cent of the time, the response is so warm, and that to me is a measure of how far we’ve come as a society that you rarely feel like people are sitting there in judgment of that moment,” said Rebecca Trehearn, who plays the Queen.
“You realise from the audience’s reactions when there are moments like that, they’re really surprised,” added Georgina Castle, who plays Cinderella’s stepsister Marie. “In this industry, we live in a bubble, whereas for an audience, their reactions are always positive but there’s an element of alarm.”
That this is still a surprising, or even alarming, plot twist for some people demonstrates how necessary it is for shows to feature such representation. “We’ve had some funny people get up and walk out, and it puts a downer on the day because we’ll all see it happen and we’ll come off stage quieter than usual,“ revealed Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, who plays the Stepmother.
“We’ve still got a long way to go. The reaction of it from those in the audience in general is very emotional because they’re so taken by it. It’s just super special. This show is important purely because of this moment.”
Cinderella is changing the face of musical theatre
Prior to seeing Cinderella, it’s likely you’ll know what could happen. Sure, there’s “ugly” stepsisters, there’s an evil stepmother and lots of romance. But this Cinderella offers a feminist take on a well-known fairy tale, shoving it straight into the 21st century. It spins the traditional narrative on its head, and that makes for a thrilling piece of theatre.
“It’s exciting to take a piece like Cinderella and reinvent it,” continued Hamilton-Barritt. ”Previous stories, even though we love them, are very redundant, which is going to [hold] things back. I love this Cinderella in the way she’s fire and not how you would expect in the Disney format. But then still paying homage to the true tale of Cinderella. It’s such a famous story!”
“Stories like Cinderella are what I was told as a child, so it’s really important to interrogate them and to look at them with fresh, contemporary eyes,” observed Trehearn. “The messages of fairy tales are not great for little girls of today. It’s important to give them a positive role model like Cinders.”
But perhaps the seeds of that empowering role model were already there – at least, with the right interpretation. “When I was a child, I watched ‘Bippidy boppidy boo’ every day before school,“ recalled Hamilton-Barritt. “I loved watching the transition and the godmother furiously dancing around her. I used to fast-forward the film on VHS just to watch that! There was something there that captured me because it was showing that you can be anything you want to be. But in regards to this story, that message is [now] stronger and more poignant.”
Roberts echoed that sentiment. “It’s not a different fairy tale completely, as there’s something within them which is very much necessary to hear now. But times change, voices change, and the way people speak changes. The people who are listening are different and they need to hear it in a different way to understand what the message is.”
Discover that new Cinderella message in this progressive — and still joyfully romantic — West End musical.