Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella Is Magic for All Ages

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Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, Jan 20 - Feb1 at the Fox Theatre.

Word association time: what’s the first thing you think of when someone says “Cinderella?” I’d bet the top two answers would be “glass slippers” and “Disney.” The animated classic has been entertaining generation after generation for more than half a decade. What you might not know is that the famous theatre duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II created their own stage musical version just a couple of years later, but it didn’t actually play the gilded stages of Broadway until…2013! That seems completely ludicrous! The thing is, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was actually created specifically for television. It aired on March 31, 1957, on CBS, starring Julie Andrews as Cinderella. It was absolutely huge, drawing approximately 60% of the American television audience then. It has since been remade twice for television, perhaps most notably in 1997 with Brandy and the late Whitney Houston as Cinderella and The Fairy Godmother, respectively, airing on ABC. It also was staged as early as 1958 in London as a traditional theatrical performance, but it wasn’t until 2013 that it finally played Broadway. 

The Broadway and touring version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella are a bit different than the original, with the show’s book having been revised by playwright Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed, Xanadu) with Robyn Goodman (Avenue Q) as producer. Mark Brokaw (Cry-Baby) directed the show on Broadway and on tour. Critics have been mixed on the subject of updating the production, but the original was only 90 minutes long, since it was crafted for the television medium. It makes sense to me that it be expanded a little for the modern theatre, and additional songs that weren’t included in the TV version, such as “Me, Who Am I?” and “There’s Music In You” are still Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers, plucked from their discard pile and given new life in this new version of Cinderella.

There’s probably no need to explain the story, because I can’t imagine you’ve read this far without knowing the tale by heart. On the National Tour, which opened January 20 at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Cinderella is played by Paige Faure, who also wore the famous Venetian glass slippers on Broadway. She has everything you would hope for from a Cinderella: pluck, humor, grace, beauty and voice are all top-notch and wonderfully displayed throughout the show. Her counterpart, the Prince, given the name Topher now—among others—was played by Andy Jones who dons the crown after understudying on Broadway. He did a fine job acting and singing, but his voice sounded tiny, especially against Paige Faure’s dynamic delivery. I was only a few rows from the stage and found it hard to hear him at times, though that might be a sound production issue more than a failure on the actor’s part. This isn’t a Disney show, after all, and nobody brings the noise like a Disney production. Despite the volume issue, Andy sang my favorite song of the night, an enchanting love letter to Cinderella (who sings her own back to her prince) in “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”

Kecia Lewis was very good and very funny as the Fairy Godmother. I hate to say it, but I think I’ve come to expect every African American actress on the big stage to sound like a gospel star. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like whenever a show casts an African American in that sort of maternal confidant role (Rock of Ages’ Justice, the stripclub owner, for example), they go that route. I was pleasantly surprised to hear her break that stereotype and just sing in a traditional musical/operatic style.

The supporting cast was brilliant all-around. Beth Glover played Madame, the wicked stepmother, who didn’t come off as so wicked as I’d expected—she reminded me of Rue McClanahan in a way, not so much evil as sassy and snarky. Likewise, her wicked step-sisters were just spoiled (Aymee Garcia as Charlotte) or faking it to avoid the wrath of mommy dearest (Ashley Park as Gabrielle). David Andino was funny as Gabrielle’s rebel-rousing forbidden beau Jean-Michele, and Blake Hammond took up some of the wicked slack as Sebastian, the conniving power behind Prince Topher’s throne. Antoine L. Smith brought humor and a terrific, booming voice to Lord Pinkleton, though lord of what I couldn’t say. He was a member of Sebastian’s inner circle, it seemed, but he was also the town crier, a job I seriously doubt a lord of anything would have held. Yes, I know, it’s a fantasy piece with fairies and magic, but historical accuracy goes a long way with me.

Speaking of magic, there’s a little bit of stage magic sprinkled throughout the show. Quick-change is a neat trick, and both Paige and Kecia pulled it off reasonably well. Before the show began I wondered how they’d do the famous transformation of the pauper to the princess. I’d hoped it would be through quick-change, and was delighted to see that they didn’t try to cover up very much of it with glitter and confetti. Paige would twirl and her dress would transform from plain to stunning! Somebody should do a musical about the art of stage magic…but I digress. The choreography by Josh Rhodes was outstanding, and the ensemble was fantastic in that regard. William Ivey Long’s Tony Award for costume design was certainly well-deserved. Everyone looked terrific, though I did find my mind wandering as I tried to reconcile the various armors and robes of nobility with what I took to be a French story. Sorry, it’s that pesky historical accuracy thing again. The stage designs by Anna Louizos were outstanding as well, from the moonlit forest to Madame’s home, to the gleaming white stairs of the castle, everything on stage looked beautiful.

While the songs may be different than what we—and our children—grew up with from Disney, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is good all-ages fun in its own right. Some may quibble with the updating but it’s not a big deal in my opinion. The show is still very much Rodgers and Hammerstein, and the empowerment of Cinderella—who rescues Prince Topher from the Machiavellian schemes of Sebastian perhaps more than he rescued her from her dysfunctional home—was a powerful message. So to was how Cinderella goes about it, by staying nice through all the garbage life threw her way. There’s never anything wrong with being nice and this was a very nice show.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella runs from January 20 to February 1, 2015, at the Fox Theatre. Find out more about this show and other upcoming performances at www.FabulousFox.com.

Grade: 
4.5 / 5.0