The British government won’t let poor “Cinderella” go to the ball.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical was set to have its opening night Tuesday in London, but the production has been thrown into chaos due to one actor, among the cast of more than 30, contracting the coronavirus.
Tonight’s premiere — which was supposed to coincide with the rest of England pulling pandemic-related restrictions on what Downing Street is calling Freedom Day — was canceled and a new opening date has not been named. In a statement, the “Phantom of the Opera” composer and West End theater owner said that because of the UK’s quarantine rules, his musical might close altogether.
“On Saturday, as part of this [testing] process, we identified one positive case in a member of our cast who has a cameo in the show,” Lloyd Webber said. “As a precautionary measure, we canceled two shows on Saturday while we carried out further tests on everyone backstage, which were negative.”
The production then administered follow-up PCR tests, all of which came back negative.
“Despite this,” Lloyd Webber said, “the impossible conditions created by the blunt instrument that is the government’s isolation guidance mean that we cannot continue. We have been forced into a devastating decision, which will affect the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of people.”
Lloyd Webber ended sounding like his Phantom about to tear down the Paris Opera House chandelier: “Freedom Day has turned into closure day.”
But is he scrapping the sets and wheeling out the ghost light at the Gillian Lynne Theatre? Sources close to the production insist that this is not a Lloyd Webber stunt, and that the state of the show really is up in the air. And a spokesman for “Cinderella” told The Post that there will definitely be no performances of the musical before next week — and what happens beyond that date is uncertain.
“It’s hard to see a route forward under the current rules, but we will do everything we can to come back,” he said.
Other perplexed sources say the musical’s advance is strong, and Lloyd Webber would be foolish to throw “Cinderella” in the bin.
“Cinderella,” which Lloyd Webber wrote with lyricist David Zippel and Oscar winner Emerald Fennell, is the latest victim of what the British press has dubbed “the pingdemic” — harsh, mandatory isolation rules in which anyone who comes in close contact with an infected person, as tracked by an app that pings your phone, must stay home for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status or negative test result. It’s estimated that soon some 10 million Britons could be couch-bound.
The business-crippling strictures, which will be re-evaluated Aug. 16, have wreaked havoc on London’s already-struggling theater business.
In the past two weeks, big-budget musicals such as “The Prince of Egypt” and “Hairspray” have been forced to cancel weeks of performances — even though most capacity and mask-wearing rules ended on Monday. “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which is now back onstage at the Palladium, had to delay its start by 12 days earlier this month.
“These rules are the death knell for the West End,” a source said. “The government doesn’t care about us. They don’t see us — until they turn up on our red carpets and ask to pose for pictures with our stars. Just take a look at [culture secretary] Oliver Dowden at ‘Hairspray.’ He couldn’t wait to get a photo on the first preview with Michael Ball in his dress. Then, no less than a week later, ‘Hairspray’ is forced to close for a minimum of three weeks.
“They don’t care.”
The only show currently running on the Great White Way, “Springsteen on Broadway,” operates at 100 percent capacity, mandates audience members be vaccinated and has so far had no performance disruptions. But that production has just two performers — Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa.
Still, sources say Broadway should avoid the West End’s money-draining turmoil. When the big Broadway musicals — such as “Wicked,” “Hamilton,” “The Lion King” and “Moulin Rouge!” — return in September, the casts and crews will be required to be vaccinated, and anybody who tests positive for COVID will likely be sent home without canceling performances.
“I applaud London for taking so many steps forward for trying to get artists back to work, but this is why Broadway is waiting,” a Broadway source said of New York theater’s later return. “We can’t afford a 10-day shutdown. We can’t afford a two-week shutdown.
“We’re going to be more prepared come the fall with how to deal with this.”