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Midnight: The Cinderella Musical

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
picture of ella from the midnight musical
Pia Johnson

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

One glass slipper may not fit all in this peppy retelling of a children’s classic, but it is still one bibbidi-bobbidi-bop of a show

Once upon a time… in a land far, far away, there lived a kind-hearted protagonist forced into servitude. A gaggle of nasty step-relatives. A charming prince. A fairy godmother. A misplaced slipper. A race against time before the clock strikes midnight. And a Tarantino-esque search for the perfect foot. 

Unless you have been shacked up in some ivory tower, the fairy tale of Cinderella will be a familiar one. It is a story that has endured throughout the centuries, and the character has seen many incarnations. In Germany, there was the Brothers Grimms’ Aschenputtel. In China, there is Yeh-Shen. In Mexico, there is Adelita. And let’s not forget Greece’s tale of the Little Saddleslut – if you think the name is eyebrow-raising, wait till you hear about the cannibalism. 

The rags-to-riches story has also resulted in an arsenal of films such as Into the Woods, Ella Enchanted, Ever After, Cinderelly, Cinderelly, A Cinderella Story, Cinderella, Cinderella II, Cinderella III – to name but a few. Some might say the world doesn’t need another Ella, but in this environmentally conscious – and commercially convenient – era of recycling, she seems here to stay.

So when a production like Midnight: The Cinderella Musical presents itself as a fresh take on the time-tested tale, you can’t help but hope it’ll be an interpretation that truly shakes things up. Sadly, however, this ‘fresh’ take on the story is about as ripe as a pumpkin in the peak of summer. 

The musical – almost a decade in the making – follows Ella, a strong-willed social justice warrior who doesn’t want, nor need, a prince to sweep her off her feet. Midnight opens with a peppy narration by a child called Stella (played that night by an enthusiastic Isobel Lauber), who reads from her picturebook as she sets the scene in the land of Glenrovia. Like the rest of the real world, it seems Glenrovia is suffering from a cost-of-living crisis; exacerbated by the king’s steep taxes. We learn of Ella’s heavy disdain for the royal family and her desire for viva la revolución – quite the premise for an upbeat children’s musical. 

However, you would expect better time management for a show titled Midnight. The 165-minute runtime feels lopsided, and Act I goes for far too long while Act II is rushed, with staple characters like Lucy Durack’s Fairy Godmother having hardly any airtime.

The grand finale screeches to a halt and gives us an unsatisfying end as – guess what? – this do-gooder of a feminist who once dreamt of dismantling systems of power and privilege still pines for the cocky prince after all. So much for an emancipatory tale. The set designer best swap Stella’s picturebook with a copy of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le Deuxiéme Sexe. 

Nevertheless, Anthony Constanzo and John Foreman's music peppers the production with several catchy and hummable hits like ‘Being the King’ and ‘Quick on Your Feet’. The stripped-back set of wooden trees and a flippable house by James Browne is like something straight out of Stella's picturebook. Trudy Dalgleish’s lighting is deftly done, and her use of shadowplay as a narrative vehicle is artful – if only it had been used more rather than just twice.

Midnight’s strongest asset is, by far, its top-notch cast, which includes some of Australia’s brightest and best. Brianna Bishop slips into the role of Cinderella like a glass slipper; she’s wide-eyed, sprightly and has a set of pipes that soar. The nation’s darling Shane Jacobson is a deliciously greedy king with a rosy-cheeked giddiness and deep baritone to match. Thomas McGuane is a picture-perfect prince, and the emotive duet with Bishop on ‘Where We Began’ showcases his boisterous vocals. Verity Hunt-Ballard masters the wicked stepmother trope, resembling Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus with her conniving grin, flame-red hair and taste for trouble. 

Matt Lee, in particular, wins over the audience's hearts as the prince’s right-hand man, Andre. Questionable French accent aside, his triumphant tap number in ‘Get Stuffed’ as Ella’s anthropomorphised teddy bear is one of the most enjoyable scenes – and a testament to Kelly Aykers’ slickly zealous choreography. 

It takes moving mountains to get a musical like Midnight off the ground and onto the stage, and for that, the producers should be commended. While it may suffer from a sluggish runtime, some teething issues and a muddled plot, Midnight is a jubilant family musical with a superstar cast, clockwork-like choreography and enough punchy witticisms to pay homage to the Comedy Theatre’s legacy. 

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Saffron Swire
Written by
Saffron Swire


From $85
Opening hours:
Various times
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