As a businessman, I always seek out different business ventures, and by having the West End on my door step, I often consider the risk levels involved in producing a West End production. One business man in the world of theatre is Andrew Lloyd Webber, and his recent business venture didn’t end too well for him.
If you are a musical theatre fan, then you are bound to know Andrew Lloyd Webber. He is responsible for some of the most influential musicals to have graced the stages of the West End and Broadway. His work has been consistently in the top-grossing show list on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond. So what went wrong with his latest project, Cinderella?
When Cinderella was first announced, the public and press were told the opening date would be in August 2020, at the Gillian Lynn Theatre. Unfortunately, like all other shows on the West End, the cast and crew were forced to stop production, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The previews of the show then didn’t begin until the 25th of June 2021.
Andrew Lloyd Webber was initially insistent that he did not want the show to open until he could have the theatre at full capacity. He publicly said that he would “rather be arrested than open with only half the theatre full.”
Fortunately for Lloyd Webber, “freedom day” was announced to be on the 19th of July, with most restrictions being dropped. This meant theatres were once again able to operate at full capacity. And the date was set: Cinderella would open on the 20th of July 2021.
Except it didn’t.
The day before the opening of the show one of the cast members tested positive for Covid-19, meaning that the cast member – and all those that had been in close contact with them – had to self-isolate. This meant that the show couldn’t go ahead. Following many complications from this, the show eventually opened for its first full-capacity audience on the 18th of August 2021.
Once the musical had begun, reviews from critics were overwhelmingly positive; some of Lloyd Webber’s career best. The biggest praise was for Carrie Hope Fletcher and how well-suited she was for the titular role. Some reviews expressed that there was an aura of misogyny surrounding the story, with Cinderella attempting to change who she was in order to impress the man she had an interest in. Having seen the production myself, I am less inclined with this latter take. Lloyd Webber and book writer Emerald Fennell worked massively hard to escape this trope. Their Cinderella was all sharp, shocking, and refreshingly ‘emo’. She is a character not to be messed with.
One of the worst reviews came from Johnny Olensinki, for The New York Post. This review labelled the show as “long” and “joyless”. By this point, Lloyd Webber announced that he was planning to transfer the show to Broadway and Olensinki expressed that he felt the show needed huge amounts of work if it was to penetrate the overly saturated, even more, expensive Broadway landscape.
Just before the cast was due to go on stage before the evening performance in November 2021, the cast was called together for a phone call from Lloyd Webber. This call was not pleasant at all. It has been reported that Lloyd Webber shouted through the phone at the cast, essentially telling them they weren’t good enough. Mr Lloyd Webber claimed that this outburst had nothing to do with Mr Olensinki’s review, although the timing of it all was suspicious.
also announced that a revised version of the show would be rehearsed from Monday the 22nd of November 2021. The telling-off was harsh. Many of the cast members were understandably so upset that they had to delay that night’s performance by half an hour.
Andrew Lloyd Webber went on to say in an interview that the whole incident had been exaggerated and said that “nobody has a right to be on the stage” and that he doesn’t have a right to have his musicals in the theatre”
When it was announced on the 1st of May 2022, during a bank holiday weekend, that Andrew Lloyd Webber would be Closing Cinderella on the West End on the 2nd of June, it took the whole theatre community by surprise, as well as the cast. Cast performing in the show that day was told in person, right after they had come off of stage from the matinee performance, but those unlucky enough not to be performing that day had to find out through social media. As you can imagine this caused a huge backlash against Lloyd Webber about how had treated his cast throughout the whole production.
The Upcoming Cast
The show was actually coming up to a cast change, with the likes of Carrie Hope Fletcher set to be leaving as well as Caleb Roberts and Rebecca Trehearn, along with many of the ensemble members. The replacement for the role of Prince Charming was announced as Strictly Come Dancing Finalist and Chef John Whaite.
Unfortunately for him, and the other members of the upcoming cast, they also had to find out through social media that would never even reach the stage. For many like John, this was going to be their debut performance, and they had to find out that their dream had been taken away, through tweets and Instagram posts.
The Last Performance
The 2nd of June came and the performance went on without a hinge, that was until the end of the show. As the cast was taking their final bows, the audience clapped and cheered to show their appreciation. Then the director of the musical, Laurence Conner came out onto the stage and shared his gratitude to the cast and all the crew backstage. He also received mounds of applause.
This interaction immediately went downhill at the mention of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name, which was greeted with masses of boos from the audience and you could see the fear in the eyes of the cast, who were already visibly upset about the show ending, standing behind Conner. Conner announced that he had a letter from Mr Lloyd Webber, which let the audience know that he hadn’t even bothered to turn up to the last performance.
In this letter, the audience could be heard audibly gasping as Andrew labelled the whole musical as “a costly mistake” which came as a big surprise as the whole cast, who was still on stage listening to this for the first time, looked shocked and upset. Once Laurence had finished reading the letter the audience once again booed, and as the cast took their final bow, you could see just how deflated they were, that something they had made their lives and put so much effort into had been labelled as just a big “mistake”.
The theatre community has reacted very strongly to the closing of Cinderella, mainly because of the way it was handled. Andrew Lloyd Webber is world-renowned for creating some of the most well-known musicals in the world and to see the way he treated this cast, shocked a lot of people. Lloyd Webber has claimed that Cinderella will open on Broadway in 2023, but with him saying it was “a costly mistake” we will have to wait to see how that turns out.
Written by Stephen Taylor, Propaganda CEO