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Andrew Lloyd Webber Talks Working With the ‘Brilliant’ Emerald Fennell on ‘Cinderella’ Musical

Andrew Lloyd Webber Emerald Fennell
Webber: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP; Fennell: Courtesy

 

Welcome to this week’s “Just for Variety“…

With the West End set to reopen in May, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella” musical, with a book by freshly minted Oscar nominee Emerald Fennell, is back in rehearsals. “We just had our first run-through for Emerald,” Lloyd Webber tells me. “She hadn’t actually heard her script for the first time properly. It was an absolutely extraordinarily emotional moment for all of us because we were like, ‘Oh, my God, we’re in a theater. We’re actually doing what we do.’ I walked off to the back and I must say, I did have a tear.”

“It’s what I love. All I want to do now, in my rather advanced age, is to make sure that we pass on everything we’re doing in theaters to a new generation in a better way,” says Lloyd Webber, who turned 73 on March 22.

The U.K. government has set May 17 for indoor theater reopenings with some capacity restrictions, followed by full audiences in June. “I’m going to open my shows in London even if it means I’m going to have to be chained to the railings of Downing Street,” Lloyd Webber says. “If they want to send me to the Tower of London, well…” He knows it’s going to take work to convince audiences that theaters are COVID-safe. “The most important thing in all of this is that theaters have got to be properly ventilated. It’s an incredibly important point,” he says. “We’ve just done trials in two of my theaters where we can prove that the air handling means the air is purer in our theaters than it is outside.”

Lloyd Webber hopes the London and New York City theater communities could unite in their efforts to bring back live entertainment. “I’ve got information from absolutely every country in the world which proves that we can open responsibly,” he says. “We’ve got to open responsibility for the audiences, we’ve got to make sure people are safe, we’ve got to make sure our actors are safe, we’ve got to make sure our musicians are safe. But we’ve got to open. Live theater — live entertainment — is something that cannot be replicated. It doesn’t matter how many times you see it on YouTube or whatever, it’s not the same.”

As for collaborating with Fennell on “Cinderella,” Webber gushes, “I wouldn’t have written it if it hadn’t been for Emerald’s brilliant synopsis she sent to me. It was three years ago so we had no knowledge obviously that she was going to come through with all these Oscar noms and everything. She’s a very, very exciting writer, she’s brilliant. I just enjoy working with her hugely.”

I drove by the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures this weekend and noticed that the word “Fanny’s” is being stenciled onto a ground-floor window. Could it be the name of the museum’s yet- to-be announced restaurant? Sure looks like it. The museum opens to the public on Sept. 30. Ava DuVernay, Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum co-chair the opening gala on Sept. 25.

The first thing Cynthia Erivo says to me when I chat with her the other day for this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast is “This is your fault. I hope you know that.” The Tony winner is talking about landing the starring role as Aretha Franklin in National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha” after producers Clive Davis and Brian Grazer saw footage of her singing Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way” during an interview with me on the Tony Awards red carpet in 2019. “We had no idea,” Erivo says. “We were totally oblivious. We have fun whenever we see each other.” Next up for Erivo: the release of her debut album (she co-wrote every song) and playing the Blue Fairy in Robert Zemeckis’ Disney Plus adaptation of “Pinocchio.” She says she’s been given “carte blanche” to create her look for the film. “My makeup artist Terrell [Mullin] is making eyelashes currently,” she says. “I know already it’s a different aesthetic because it’s me — this bald-headed Black girl. I’m very excited about it. We don’t have many Black fairies.”

Speaking of Tony winners, please take a look at the cast of “The Gilded Age,” Julian Fellowes’ new HBO series about 1880s New York City. The cast has 17 Tony nominees (11 of whom have won), including Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, Nathan Lane, Audra McDonald, Katie Finneran (full disclosure: Finneran’s husband, “Ozark” actor Darren Goldstein, is my cousin), Kelli O’Hara, Donna Murphy, Michael Cerveris, Debra Monk, Celia Keenan-Bolger and Bill Irwin. Bernie Telsey, who cast the series with Adam Caldwell, says with a laugh, “I think it was a secret mission of Adam’s and mine to set a record of most Tony nominees and winners in a television series.” Caldwell adds, “Not that anyone on board was against it. When we first started, it was one of the first things they said: ‘If we’re doing this in New York, we should really look at all the best New York theater actors.’” With so much musical theater talent involved, could a musical episode already be in the works? “I keep pushing for that,” Telsey says, smiling. It’s also been wonderful casting multiple woman who are at least 30 years old. “A lot of them were mentioning that when we were meeting and auditioning them, that it’s amazing that there’s one show that has such all these great scenes for all of these women of a certain age,” Caldwell says. Telsey adds, “Usually, they’d all be up for the same part but I’m looking at the cast and there’s at least 10 of them here.”

HarperCollins just announced it will publish the first authorized biography of Elizabeth Taylor. Currently untitled, the tome will be written by New York Times bestselling author and CNN contributor Kate Andersen Brower and is set for a 2022 pub date. Cannot wait!

Let’s get physical! Barry’s Bootcamp is on the move. After a decade, the über-popular training studio is leaving its West Hollywood location at La Cienega and Holloway and relocating to 8383 Santa Monica Blvd., in a street-level space that most recently housed an Aaron Brothers art supply shop. The new spot will open after six months of construction. Barry’s also offers COVID-safe classes at the Beverly Center in the valet parking lot through June.