Even TikTok Couldn’t Save Broadway’s ‘Bad Cinderella’

bad-cinderella - Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman
bad-cinderella - Credit: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

If there was any indication of how Bad Cinderella’s Broadway run would go, it was apparent during the show’s Oct. 3 announcement. Actress Linedy Genao, who plays the titular Cinderella, addressed a gathered crowd of media, fans, and a ravenous online audience ready to see how the American attempt of the short-lived London musical would work.

“But I do have one thing to tell you,” Genao said into the mic, while composer Andrew Lloyd Weber looked on from the sides. “I’m not your Cinderella. I’m your bad Cinderella.”

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With those four fated words, a slight leg kick, and a 33-second attempt to spray paint the first and last letters of “BAD” on the sign behind her, Genao cemented Bad Cinderella in TikTok musical history. The musical was billed as an “unconventional fairytale” and played up as a version of the children’s tale that was edgier than its predecessor. But instead of being celebrated for its modern take on a classic, Bad Cinderella (and the clip) became a minor meme on TikTok. Since October, the hashtag #badcinderella has grown to over 60 million views. And outside of the Imperial Theatre in New York’s Time Square, where the show is taking place, I saw no less than seven people recreating Genao’s spray paint moment in front of the sign. And inside the theater, during two separate nights of previews, the word on most (young) lips was how much traction the musical had gained on TikTok.

To be fair to Genao, whose time as Cinderella is her first starring role on Broadway, Bad Cinderella was a bad (I’m so sorry) idea from the get go. When it first premiered as Cinderella in London’s West End in August 2021, the show was beset by several false starts because of Covid-19 restrictions, and was forced to pause production after another resurgence. In May 2022, Webber made headlines by announcing the show’s abrupt closing, with the cast reportedly finding out through social media. The composer was then booed on closing night, after he did not attend but had a producer read a letter calling the production a “costly mistake.”  While Webber has since apologized for the wording, saying he was misunderstood, the Broadway adaptation has been plagued by these bad vibes ever since. Genao is the first Latina to ever originate a leading role in a Webber musical on Broadway, a fact that becomes less celebratory and more side-eye when you remember the composer famously released Evita in 1976. But even an online spotlight that clearly filled some seats hasn’t been enough to save Bad Cinderella from the real problem: itself.

If you’ve watched at least one adaptation of Cinderella, the plot will probably feel both familiar and incredibly confusing at the same time. Set in a vaguely European town called Belleville, Bad Cinderella casts our main character as an outcast in a society where the only duty is to be beautiful — and gorgeous women, neon lederhosen, hot buns, and shirtless men abound. Except this time, Prince Charming (Cameron Loyal) is missing in action. After Cinderella defaces a memorial statue to the prince and is casually left to be eaten by wolves, the queen (Grace McLean) tries to win the people and tourists back. Her answer? Making the younger prince Sebastian (Jordan Dobson) hold a ball to find a bride. If you think you know where it goes from there, you are very wrong! Sebastian and Cinderella, who have apparently been best friends since childhood, love each other from the get-go but are thwarted from being together because of Disney channel-esque miscommunications and Cinderella’s stepmother (Carolee Carmello). And that’s only the first act!

The musical, which seems to be aiming to be both culturally relevant and cheekily camp, fails at making any big statement but draws some laughable moments. Every second McLean and Carmello are on stage feels like a breath of fresh air, as the actresses elevate their rudimentary and often ageist lines into incredibly comical performances. Dobson’s voice is breathtaking, giving his solo an intrigue and youthfulness that makes his prince shine. But the stepsisters shoehorn in references like “it’s giving, peasant” and calling Cinderella a “pick me girl” in a way that gives dated. The musical screams money, from its woods-themed stage, to the pastel town, to the neon signs, to the stage’s revolving center that seems to exist just because it can. And Genoa is overshadowed by this frenetic energy, and weighed down by excessively long songs and unclear motivations. While it would be easy to blame the musical’s failures on its leading lady, Genoa can’t play a role that doesn’t exist. Beyond the show’s many faults (gaudy, 1980s prom costumes, lyrics that defy understanding, and music that feels like an off-brand version of Webber’s greatest hits) — there are some nice moments. The ensemble, full of at least 13 actors and actresses making their Broadway debuts, work so goddamn hard. While nothing is enough to distract from the poor pacing and tired plot, they alone keep the energy alive, swinging, spinning and gyrating so expertly that it made me want to pass their resumes out on my way home.

How do you make a Cinderella for the 21st century? Apparently, for Webber, it means trying to say something scathing about beauty standards and feminism, only to reinforce everything you claim to hate. This isn’t Webber’s first miss. (Anyone remember Starlight Express?) But Bad Cinderella feels less like a failed attempt to create something new and more like a half-hearted note to keep Webber’s unbroken 42-year streak on Broadway going. Is Bad Cinderella worth it? The title might give you a hint.

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