Originally a businesswoman working in the financial sector, she auditioned for the Gloria Estefan musical On Your Feet! on a whim. “I took a selfie on an iPhone 4, and printed it at Walgreens as my headshot!” Genao says, laughing.
Cast as the understudy Gloria, Genao met her own Prince Charming in the form of a stagehand on the Broadway production; they got married in 2021. Now, she’s stepping into the leading lady spotlight with slippers all her own in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest musical, Bad Cinderella.
Genao will be joined on stage by Jordan Dobson, a musical marvel who burst onto the Broadway scene in 2020 as the standby Tony in Ivo van Hove’s West Side Story. Similar to Genao, Bad Cinderella will be the first time Dobson originates a leading role on Broadway. Speaking in the Playbill office, the pairs' excitement could not be more infectious.
“Grace McLean! Oh, I’m obsessed” says Dobson, who is playing Queen McLean’s son Prince Sebastian (McLean played the scene-stealer Marya in Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, and is a composer in her own right, responsible for Lincoln Center’s In The Green). “I have been Grace’s biggest fan for so long; when I found out she was playing my mom, I got so excited.”
Genao nods emphatically in agreement, bringing up her soon-to-be stepmother Carolee Carmello, “They're comedic geniuses. I can't wait to learn from these two women. I'm writing notes all the time, every time they do something.”
The pair visited Playbill only hours before their first scene rehearsal, following the company’s first sing-through on New Year’s Eve. While the champagne toast helped to settle their nerves, both Dobson and Genao have been feeling the pressure.
Bad Cinderella originally premiered on the West End in 2021 with the straightforward name Cinderella. The musical dramatically reimagines the classic fairytale, calling into question the power dynamics present in most fairytale romances, and the beautiful-yet-tragic princess archetype. In London, COVID-19 complications and behind-the-scenes missteps caused problems—the show closed earlier than expected in June 2022, with many cast members blindsided by the notice when the press broke the news. When Webber announced the Broadway transfer, complete with a name and cast change, Genao was the target of a digital pile on, tearing apart every second of the event in the latest example of Internet meme mockery. Genao has taken it in stride.
“My heart is with everyone that experienced that unfortunate period in London, but it was very difficult to deal with the backlash. People were coming for my character, and to experience the highest of highs on that day, and then go home and see….” Here Genao waves her hands widely, seemingly at a loss for words, before continuing, “It was very difficult. The imposter syndrome has been real, but I’ve promised myself this New Year to step into my power and be confident in myself.”
The pressure on Dobson is less defensive, and more offensive. Originally a musician, Dobson served as a drum major in his high school band, and trained as a woodwind player, expecting to play in the orchestra of Broadway shows. Throughout his journey from the pit to stage, he has leaned on his fellow actor-musicians to fight off his own imposter syndrome. When principal Tony, Isaac Cole Powell, suffered a leg injury early in West Side Story’s preview process, Dobson was stricken with panic, having not had adequate rehearsal time before being called upon to lead the production. “The person I look up to in this business the most is Alex Gemignani. He was my music director on West Side Story, and he is the only reason I got through my Broadway debut.” Dobson, an inherently shy person, visibly relaxes at the memory. “I was freaking out in the dressing room, and he came in and gave me this beautiful talk that empowered me so much. I went on because of him.”
Since West Side Story, Dobson has been in high demand, moving quickly between showstopping soft-boy roles—such as Orpheus in Hadestown, the “Shilo” singer in A Beautiful Noise, and a host of film roles. Playing Prince Sebastian allows him to access a part of himself that he had been taught to hide away: his anger.
“He has a rage that has been dwelling inside of him throughout his whole life. There’s this internal struggle and rage that builds, that he's never allowed to express.” Dobson leans forward, his eyes alight. “I think anger is something that I've always shied away from in life. I never realized how unhealthy it is, to try to be palatable for everybody. Anger is a pure emotion that we should all be allowed to express, that we all need to express.”
Whereas Dobson is finding the anger underneath Sebastian’s princely polish, Genao is finding the gentleness under Cinderella’s grit. “Ella lives in a society where she is not welcome. She’s the outcast, because she dares to be who she is. She’s searching for a home, and all that comes with it; safety, happiness and love.” Genao smiles softly, before adding, “That's all she wants, and the only person she feels that with is Sebastian.”
Both Genao and Dobson are pushing against the constraints of stereotypes. The daughter of Dominican immigrants, Genao’s tenderness flies in the face of the fiery-Latina cliché. And Dobson’s acceptance of rage as a Black man stands in direct opposition to the silencing rhetoric that has been forced upon the Black community for centuries. Both the actors and their characters in Bad Cinderella are on the precipice of self-determination, shedding the pressures of expectation and embracing their own authenticity. In the fairytale world of Belleville, they’re able to fashion a new future for themselves, which is in turn is inspiring their own behavior in the real world.
“I'm very excited to pour myself into this.” Genao states emphatically. “I feel in my heart that this is going to be a beautiful growing experience for all of us. I can’t wait for the world to see our world.”
See Playbill's exclusive photoshoot with Linedy Genao and Jordan Dobson.