Can Andrew Lloyd Webber Modernize Cinderella?

This post was inspired by a reader of my blog who informed me of an upcoming new Cinderella musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Modernizing the story of "Cinderella" is more complicated than rebooting a franchise like The Princess Diaries because Cinderella has already been reinvented countless times. Some of these reimaginings are better than others. The most obvious problem with creating a stage musical of "Cinderella" is that the Rodgers and Hammerstein version has evolved into a timeless classic since it was first performed by Julie Andrews on live TV in 1957. The most recent revival of the production added a modern twist by making Cinderella a revolutionary who takes advantage of her close relationship with the prince to help the peasants overcome a housing crisis in their kingdom. Was this element a necessary addition to the story? Not really. Yet, it offered something new to take away from a tale we've already heard hundreds of times. If Andrew Lloyd Webber can bring something new to the story, his version could potentially stand triumphantly alongside the Cinderellas from the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic and Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. However, it's a slippery slope, and not just because of the glass slippers.

Like many fans of Broadway and musical theater, I grew up with Andrew Lloyd Webber's most famous shows such as Cats and Phantom of the Opera, so I was curious to see how he would handle such a classic fairy tale that often gets butchered from overexposure. The video interview between Andrew Lloyd Webber, writer Emerald Fennell, and leading lady Carrie Hope Fletcher raised some red flags for me. They discussed how "Cinderella" is a story of transformation and how they wanted to challenge that theme and determine if it's really necessary to change. While it is important to stay true to yourself, I have to say that it is not only necessary to change as we get older but ultimately inevitable. Princesses start out as young and innocent, and it isn't until they transform as a result of their exciting and magical journeys that they reach a point when they are ready to become queen. This applies just as much to "Cinderella" as it does to any other fairy tale, so the prospect of using this production as a sounding board to fight against the core theme of transformation is inherently flawed, and possibly even harmful to younger audiences.

The other misguided statement from the short video interview is that no one questions the fact that Cinderella decided to marry the prince even though she barely knew him. Excuse me? This has been questioned constantly! It started in 1986 with Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods and its philandering princes and followed up by Disney in 2007 with Enchanted and then 2013 with a little thing called Frozen. This common theory also doesn't take into account the fact that Cinderella was a victim who needed to be with the prince in order to escape a life of abuse. I hope that the interview was a poorly worded attempt to explain the new musical because it sounds as though it's about Cinderella trying to resist an opportunity to be with someone who loves her so that she is able to continue her miserable life of servitude. If that is an accurate depiction, it does not sound like an adaptation that misses the point of the story entirely. Even the brief musical clip that Webber shared on his YouTube channel further insinuates these flawed ideas that he construes as "modern."

"Call me bad Cinderella. I will not say good-bye. I've been leaving (living?) since I met you. I'll forget you."
Carrie Hope Fletcher sings a melody that is strongly reminiscent of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "In My Own Little Corner" in a beautiful vibrato voice. These lyrics sound like the sort of quick fix that Disney used to modernize characters like Princess Jasmine with her newest song "Speechless." Modern women must be so strong that they don't need a man or anyone else to help them get stuff done. Have we reached a point where this applies even to "Cinderella," arguably one of the most romantic fairy tales of all time? If we are living in a world where not even Cinderella can find true love at the ball, I'm not sure it's the type of world that I want to be part of. Then again, the meaning of these lyrics is vastly different based on who they are sung to. If she is singing to the prince about not wanting to say good-bye to her old life and continue to be a slave, that is a sign of Stockholm syndrome that demonstrates she has been brainwashed by her stepmother to the extent that she doesn't even think she can leave, which is a dangerous message to convey. The healthiest interpretation of these lyrics is that she is singing to her stepfamily about forgetting them and not wanting to say good-bye to the prince, As much as I'd like to remain optimistic, the context of the interview leads me to believe that is not the case.

When it comes to "Cinderella," it can be possible to have too much of a good thing. The classic rags to riches story of a girl who just wants to be loved has been reinvented so many times that it is barely even recognizable through a modern lens. The new Andrew Lloyd Webber production is slated to premiere at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in England this October. Those of us living in the United States may not even have an opportunity to see it live unless it does well and comes to Broadway or goes on an international tour. As appealing as it sounds to see an adaptation of "Cinderella" by the same man who created the beloved Phantom of the Opera, this play sounds like it's trying way too hard to modernize a story that never needed to be modernized in the first place. I hope the interview was misleading and that it turns out to be fantastic, but in the meantime, we will always have the breathtakingly beautiful Rodgers and Hammerstein version on with its unforgettable soundtrack.


Anonymous said…
How fun to see my ”princess tip” inspired you to write a blog post! :D
Like I’ve told you before, I’m very excited for this musical and happy for Carrie to finally play a princess like she always wanted to do. But I do have pretty much the same concerns as you describe here.

Wanting to make Cinderella “stronger” is not a bad idea per say, but making her too strong would just make us the audience question why she would stay with her stepfamily in the first place. You can work it all into that she has nowhere else to go, no money etc. but it still can get weird if Cinderella is made too tough.

You can have her complain and talk bad about her stepfamily behind their back and her standing up for herself without it becoming too much. Disney’s Cinderella has that.

She gets angry with Lucifer.
When the letter from the king arrives she makes fun of having to interrupt “the music lesson”.
And then she stands up for herself and argues why she also should be allowed to go to the ball.

This works so, so well and because of this, the scene when the stepsisters’ rip her dress apart becomes more heart breaking. It shows us clearly how awful the situation actually is, that despite her finding her ways to stand up for herself the stepmother can still break her down.

I’m currently playing a game adaptation of Cinderella called “Cinders” which I so far do like but Cinderella is given such a “modern tough chick attitude” that really annoys me sometimes.
I keep asking myself over and over again why she doesn’t run away. It seems that maybe the story is building up to that and part of the gameplay is that you can make decisions on what to do and say.
I still recommended the game because it looks beautiful and the story seems to get interesting.
(I just keep dumping all this princess content on you. I have a lot more but I’m sorry if I’m annoying you.)

Anyway, back to Andrew’s Cinderella!
So from the poster we can tell that it will take place in modern times since she’s holding a spray can. Rebel street artist?
And from what Andrew is saying in the interview about it taking place in a gorgeous town with the most gorgeous people and then Cinderella being a misfit, this is my theory on what the story might be like.

Cinderella is not just mistreated by her stepfamily (if she has one) but also the townsfolk. She tries to stay true to herself but she ends up thinking that the only way to be happy is to be like the townsfolk and wanting to marry the prince like all the other women in town. She ends up at the ball where the prince falls for her and she believes that this is her way to happiness. But then she starts to wonder if this is really what she wants. She’s free from her stepfamily and respected by the townsfolk but will she be happy with the prince?
That’s maybe why she ends up calling herself “bad Cinderella” since she doesn’t fit into the Cinderella narrative. Maybe Cinderella won’t even be her name in this?

That’s my theory on the story. I will cross my fingers and hope for the best! And I hope the will reveal the rest of the cast soon.

Have a nice day!
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi friend,

I'm glad you're enjoying my posts. I have written a few older articles about the decline in femininity in princess media from recent years, which I think is particularly relevant to stories like "Cinderella." You can find some of those posts here:

I think you're absolutely right about what the spray can in the poster image represents, but I think it's more symbolic than literal because Andrew said the interview that he didn't want to set this version in modern times. I suppose if the "bad" guys are the ones encouraging her to marry the prince, that would make the Fairy Godmother the villain of the story, which could be an interesting twist even though they already did that exact same plot in Shrek 2. In fact, now that I think about it, the story as we know it so far sounds extremely similar to Shrek 2 with the concept of rejecting societal expectations to conform to conventional beauty standards.

I'm always happy to listen to recommendations. :) It looks like "Cinders" is a visual novel or "otome" app as they are known in Japan. I became fascinated by otome apps a few years ago and play two of them on my smartphone with multiple stories and love interests on a regular basis. One is called Lovestruck: Choose Your Romance and has two fairytale-themed stories. One is called Love & Legends, which has already completed every storyline for every love interest as well as some bonus chapters. It's about a girl from Chicago who gets trapped in a fantasy world where she learns that she looks identical to the kingdom's worst enemy. She must choose a guardian to eventually fall in love with and prove that she isn't the villain they think she is. The newer one is called Reigning Passions, which has a more direct plot about a seemingly ordinary girl who learns that she's the Lost Princess who is prophecied to unite the realms. The one that you're playing now does sound a little too forced in terms of modern tropes. I particularly enjoyed Love & Legends from the Lovestruck app because it justifies the modern philosophies of the protagonist by making her a time traveler who came from the modern world. I definitely recommend if you're looking for more visual novels. Plus, it's free!

Stay healthy!
PrincessContent said…
(I decided to give myself a name on here so that it will be easier)

Thank you for the links! I will check them out!

I completely forgot about what role the Fairy Godmother could play in this. Maybe you’re on to something here and you’re right, if she would end up as the bad guy then it does sound like Shrek 2 a bit.

Thank you for the visual novel recommendations!

And now! More recommendations to you from me! :D

1. Hazbin Hotel
This one is a pilot episode for an adult animated series.

“Follow Charlie, the princess of Hell, as she pursues her seemingly impossible goal of rehabilitating demons to peacefully reduce overpopulation in her kingdom. After a yearly extermination imposed by angels, She opens a hotel in hopes that patients will be "checking out" into Heaven. While most of Hell mocks her goal, her devoted partner Vaggie, and their first test subject, adult film-star Angel Dust, stick by her side. When a powerful entity known as the "Radio Demon" reaches out to Charlie to assist in her endeavours, her crazy dream is given a chance to become a reality.”

2. Toei animation
Swan Lake 1891

The Wonderful World of Puss in Boots 1969
This one is sadly not on Youtube with English subtitles.

3. Studio Ghibli
I’ve seen that you’ve reviewed The Tale of Princess Kaguya but Studio Ghibli have more princesses. And all of these are up on Netflix!

Nausicaä Of The Valley of The Wind 1984
Laputa – Castle In The Sky 1986
Princess Mononoke 1997
The Cat Returns 1999 (don’t really know if this one is a princess movie. But it has a prince.)

4. NiNoKuni
This is an animated Netflix movie.

Stay healthy and safe to you too! <3
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi PrincessContent,

Thanks for the recommendations!

I don't know why I was expecting Hazbin Hotel to be an anime. I guess it was because everything else you recommended was. I think I'd heard it before since indie projects usually get enthusiastic cult followings. It was certainly different! I liked the art, but the story was hard to focus on because of all the over-the-top adult humor.

I watched the anime Swan Lake on YouTube a few months ago, and I already can't remember a single thing about it. It just didn't compare to the Richard Rich version. I think it was produced by the same people that made the anime Little Mermaid movie, but I'm not sure.

I never particularly cared for Princess Mononoke, nor do I consider myself much of a Ghibli fan. The only movie they made that I thought was really special was Howl's Moving Castle.

I will check out the Netflix movie. Right now I'm binging a live-action Spanish drama on Netflix called Always a Witch. I randomly saw it on my queue and got addicted to the time travel romance story. It's kind of like Outlander except more magical.

Stay safe!
PrincessContent said…
Hazbin Hotel is indeed very, very different. I understand the people who have a hard time following the story. There’s just so much going on in every scene.
I personally really liked the humour. Normally I have a hard time getting into adult cartoons since many just seems to be all crazy just because “it’s for adults”.
But with Hazbin Hotel I think that the over the top humour works because they are in literal hell.
I also think that princess Charlie is a very interesting character. Not to get too personal, but I can relate to her struggle of trying to be happy and bring happiness when the rest of the world just seems to want to bring you down. Charlie is clearly not naïve but many probably see her as such just because of her trying to see the good things in everyone.
In real life, many who try to bring more positivity are often accused of being naïve and told to grow up.

I completely understand if Princess Mononoke is not your cup of tea. Now that I think about it, there is no real reason to why Mononoke is being called a princess.

Princess Nausicaä from ”Nausicaä Of The Valley of The Wind” is one of my favourite princess characters though. She’s one of my examples of a “strong female character” done right. She’s not stripped of her feelings to seem more “badass”. Her being kind and trying to solve problems in a peaceful way is not portrayed as being naïve.

I’ve seen the trailer for Always a Witch and it really looks interesting. But I’m currently watching so many shows at the moment so that one has to wait a bit.

Stay safe!

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