When Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" aired on CBS television on March 31, 1957 (the occasion for which they wrote it) I'm not sure if my parents were among the 100 million+ viewers that night. I was still in diapers.
But thanks to the Overture Center's continuing imports of Broadway shows, I finally caught up with the touring company of the 2013 production that was nominated for nine Tony awards. The production features an updated book by Douglas Carter Beane … the words "updated book" give me pause (I'm impossibly old school when it comes to my Broadway inclinations), but I am thrilled to report that this "Cinderella" could hardly be more delightful. Let's just say "if the shoe fits … sing it."
Of course there was more than the usual local interest in the first installment of the Overture Center's Broadway series, as the company features the first starring role of a young lady who is no stranger to big moments on the Overture Hall stage. When she was still "just" Tatyana Nahirniak she won Tommy awards in 2010 and 2011. As "Ella" to all but her cold step-relatives who add the "Cinder," Lubov has a fresh, breezy and natural quality onstage, with a voice that warmed considerably in Act II's "When You're Driving Through the Moonlight."
It was no surprise that Lubov received the most boisterous ovation at curtain call time, but rest assured that the production is full of highlights from the other principal roles, much engaging choreography, a little has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed visual transformations, and a great deal of humor.
Beane's version of the story sets much of it in the woods, where Cinderella and step-sibs/mom live in a "upper middle class" house, and gives a greater emphasis to Cinderella's not only playing a greater role in determining her own fate, but helping to nudge the Prince to a place of social consciousness as a soon-to-be king. Trust me, it's not nearly as clunky as I just made it sound.
There are songs added (the original TV version was 90 minutes long, this show is two hours, 10 minutes including one intermission), and Beane unearthed a couple of gems: Topher (the Prince's name, short for Christopher) gets one right off the bat. "Me, Who Am I?" was cut from R&H's "Me and Juliet," and Hayden Stanes wastes no time in exhibiting his bona fides as a young man of noble birth genuinely searching for his true purpose (killing dragons and giants just isn't enough).
Yes, there's a godmother, most of the time disguised as a poor old indigent woman, Marie. In this role, Leslie Jackson gave evidence of perhaps the strongest, even quasi-operatic voice of the cast, and she gets the great number "There's Music in You" from an R&H film score. She also got the beginning of a standing ovation during her bow.
The role of stepmother, Madame, was played by Sarah Primmer with just the right amount of fairy-tale nastiness, and the two stepsisters were Mimi Robinson as Gabrielle and Joanna Johnson as Charlotte. The latter gets some of the best one- liners, and even steals the show for a short stretch at the beginning of Act 2 in the classic "Stepsister's Lament," with the classic line "Why would a fella want a girl like her?"
Beane successfully navigates a fine line in giving us a shoe box full of one-liners that get genuine laughs, yet rarely threaten to interrupt the overall flow of the show. Add those eye-popping costume transformations courtesy of William Ivey Long (it's easy to understand why this show won a Tony for costumes) and the charm of duets such as "Ten Minutes Ago," and oh yes—all that classic Rodgers and Hammerstein magic, and you've got a must-see event, especially for those with children (and there were scads of princesses-in-training in the audience Tuesday night). Running through Oct. 9, with two performances each on Saturday and Sunday, it's a ticket worth chasing.
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