Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella at the Broadway Theatre

Are you a Julie Andrews, Lesley Ann Warren or, if younger, a Brandy? For many Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella was a staple of childhood.  Whether it was the original black and white live Broadcast from March 31, 1957 or its television remakes, the perennial staple of the colorful 1960's or the multicultural 1990's,  there is a lot of nostalgic love for this musical, particularly the score.  Ever since the 1957 original, the remakes for television and the stage have added additional songs and rewritten the book so it is not surprising that for the 2013 Broadway revival continues the tradition of adding songs and rewriting the story yet again.

Douglas Carter Beane takes on the latest rewrite of the Cinderella book.  Some of the changes are welcome such as an expanded role for the fairy godmother integrating her into Cinderella's life from the beginning of the story. Other changes are tiresome. There seems to be a trend in contemporary retellings of "Princess" fairytales to do everything to modernize the heroine so that she no longer requires a prince to rescue her from her hum-drum existence. This can be a good thing, if it is executed well.  Yet, Mr. Beane saddles the story with a power to the proletariat subplot that adds a cumbersome layer to the natural story. Inserting contemporary phrases into the dialogue such as "hello, I'm talking" or "will you be my boyfriend" takes away from the universality of the story. When Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella focuses on our heroine and her prince and their fairytale, there are genuine moments of magic on the stage.

In this version, Prince Topher has recently returned from university and is preparing to assume his throne. His parents have died and Lord Protector Sebastian has been ruling the kingdom oppressing the peasants.  "Cinder" Ella, lives with her widowed stepmother, Madame and her stepsisters, the gentle Gabrielle and the comically crass Charlotte, waiting on them hand and foot.  Local villager Jean-Michel, who loves Gabrielle, is determined to speak with the Prince about the injustice in the kingdom. To distract the Prince from figuring outSebastian's misrule, a ball is announced during which the Prince will choose a bride. Ella longs to attend the ball and thanks to her kindness to crazy Marie, her Fairy Godmother in disguise, her wish is granted.  After a magical night filled with dancing and love, Ella flees the ball at the stroke of midnight. The Prince is determined to find his love as much as Sebastian and Madame are determined to thwart him.  There are twists and turns until everyone finds their happily ever after.

The design elements are whimsical. Anna Louizos creates an enchanted forest set. William Ivey Long's costumes are a rainbow of color and sparkle.  The magical transformation of Cinderella from rags to ball gown, which happens without smoke or mirrors, will leave you wondering how did they did it in front of your eyes.  David Chase's musical adaptation coupled with the new orchestrations by Danny Troob are lushly performed by a twenty-piece orchestra that does justice to Richard Rodgers score.

The cast is in fine voice. It is wonderful to hear a classic Broadway score sung traditionally by a cast that is not singing the pop-rock vocals so prevalent in today's Broadway shows.  Phumzile Sojola as Lord Pinkleton uses his clear operatic tones to make "The Prince Is Giving a Ball" the rousing production number it should be.  Ann Harada accompanied by the ladies of the court turns "Stepsister's Lament" into a comedic gem.  Greg Hildreth sings "Now Is the Time" with revolutionary fervor.Harriet Harris as Madame and Peter Bartlett as Sebastian are appropriately hissable villains. Victoria Clark soars physically and vocally through the classic "Impossible."

Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana are well matched as Cinderella and her Prince.  With beautiful voices and unmatched chemistry they are the best couple on Broadway.   Yes, its true that there really isn't anything with an old-fashioned love story currently on the New York stage, but let that not distract from the fact that you could not ask for a better representation of love and honest emotion than Ms. Osnes and Mr. Fontana.

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella is far from a perfect show. The errors in changes to the book nearly derail what is otherwise a fine production.  Go to see Laura Osnes, Santino Fontana and the rest of this excellent cast do justice to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's beloved score.  Perhaps someday the musical will get a book that will do equal justice to the story.

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella is being performed on Broadway at the Broadway Theatre. For tickets and other performance information please visit or

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