By ANNE SIEGEL
The bling and glamour of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella was met with cheers, oohs and ahhs – mainly by youngsters – who attended a recent opening of this fabled fairy tale musical in Milwaukee. No wonder. This version, which was adapted for Broadway in 2013, started out as a modernized version of a made-for-TV musical.
Those of us who recall the original two broadcasts – first, with lovely and talented Julie Andrews in black and white and, later, with captivating and charming Leslie Ann Warren in glorious color in the title roles – may find it shocking that the first of these TV events debuted 60 years ago.
Even now, with some slight tweaking, the heart of Cinderella is the classic rags-to-glamour story of a young girl, a wicked stepmother, a prince, a dance and a glass slipper. The show played March 28-April 2 in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, as part of its Broadway series.
This impressively active North American tour has been on the road for a couple of years now, performing throughout the U.S. and Canada. (It is finishing its run in Calgary this week.)
There are some moments of strong acting, but the true stars of this non-Equity production are most certainly the Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes like “Ten Minutes Ago,” “Impossible,” “In My Own Little Corner’ and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” Even those who have never seen the original TV versions might predictably be able to carry a tune for some of these titles, several of which have become standards. They are treated with respect by both the accomplished singers and the euphonious and rich arrangements turned in by the orchestra.
Updating this version for 21st century audiences involves new lingo and new characters. For instance, when the young prince wonders what kind of man he’ll become, his older, longtime consultant advises, “fake it ‘til you make it.” In the early scenes, the college-educated prince distinguishes himself as a leader with a heart, mind and soul.
A bit less success is achieved by the two stepsisters. Although they are appropriately dowdy, gaudy and ill-mannered, one of them forges a secret with Cinderella in the second act. She even calls Cinderella her “sister,” which of course she is, but never recognized as such in the Disney version. They spoil some of the fun by not being as nasty as they could be.
The other sister, wearing glasses (Joanna Johnson) and a frizzy wig, becomes an audience favorite. Her humor stems from the fact that she is convinced the prince will be dazzled by her presence – once he gets to know her.
But alas, the Prince (Hayden Stanes) has only eyes for Cinderella (Tatyana Lubov). When she appears in an effervescent white, full-skirted gown, she instantly becomes the talk of the ball and the randy royal can’t keep his eyes off this enchanting beauty. They demonstrate some G-rated chemistry and certainly seem to be a match made in heaven.
But then midnight strikes, and, well, you probably know the story from here. Cinderella flees (shoes intact) as the Prince calls out to her. He never even learned her name. Meantime, the ball continues in a lovely choreographed sequence that shows off the fantastically detailed, colorful gowns by William Ivey Long. The women swirl about like mobile bouquets of flowers, all tinted in blue, orange, green, and purple.
The Prince decides to host a banquet for the entire community, hoping that it will lure Cinderella back to the castle. It does, except this time she deliberately leaves a shoe behind.
Mimi Robinson plays the fairy godmother, the enchantress who transforms Cinderella from a lowly scullery maid into a dazzling princess. She gathers several woodland creatures – raccoons, foxes and mice – to become footmen and horses. A plain pumpkin becomes a golden carriage, carrying Cinderella off to the ball in regal style. In a nod to modern-day sensibilities, Robinson also plays a “crazy woman of the woods” whom Cinderella defends from the wandering Prince and his entourage.
There’s also a bit of social consciousness thrown in for good measure. Jean-Michel (Chris Woods) is a low-key crusader for human rights, but he thankfully isn’t the focus of this oft-told tale.
The technical elements are top notch. Long’s sumptuous costumes are beautifully lit by Kenneth Posner’s lighting, and Nevin Steinberg’s sound design adds forest-like noises to the orchestra’s tunes.
Interestingly, the one-dimensional sets by Anna Louizos – featuring wings and cartoon-type cut-outs of trees and other objects – seem to be borrowed straight from the 1950s. Perhaps this “period look” was intentional, but today’s audiences have come to expect more realism, even in a fairytale. Aside from that mere quibble, Cinderella rises to the occasion as the Prince and Cinderella’s romance certainly stirs the audience’s hearts. This is clearly a great show for introducing young children to theater.
The national tour of Cinderella continues its run in May of 2017 in venues in Eugene, Oregon (Hult Center); Boise, Idaho (Morrison Center); Yakima, Washington (The Capitol Theatre); Spokane, Washington (INB Performing Arts Center; Fresno, California (Saroyan Theatre); Bakersfield, California (Rabobank Arena Theatre); Reno, Nevada (Pioneer Center) and Salt Lake City, Utah (Eccles Theatre).