We probably all know the story of the classic fairy tale Cinderella, mostly from the Walt Disney animated version. Famed Broadway composers Rodgers and Hammerstein also created a musical version of the story, but not for the stage. Their Cinderella was actually produced for television in 1957 (with Julie Andrews) and remade in 1965 with Lesley Ann Warren, a version that many still hold fond in their memories to this day (a 50th anniversary DVD was recently issued). Another remake with Brandi and Whitney Houston aired in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the show finally made its way to the Broadway stage for a successful two-year run.
Now that version is touring the country (currently housed in Baltimore at the Hippodrome Theatre), and it is a delight for both young and old. And if you think you know the story of Cinderella, well, think again. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s version was originally for a 90 minute TV special. The new stage version expands the story beyond what we know, and gives us a little more insight into some of the characters.
The basics of the story are there: Cinderella, the put-upon stepdaughter who is forced to cater to her stepmother’s every whim, finds herself with a Fairy Godmother who transforms her into someone who can actually meet the charming Prince, and loses her glass slipper on the way out of the ball as midnight strikes. Hold on, because in this version Cinderella does not lose her slipper, forcing the Prince to hold a banquet for all the people of the land in the hopes the mysterious younf woman will return. We also learn that one of Cinderella’s “wicked step-sisters” isn’t all that wicked. In fact, she likes Cinderella and shares that she has a secret boyfriend mother would never approve of, while Ella reveals that it was she at the ball whom the Prince is seeking. This little spin on the story adds some nice dimension to the characters and really livens up the second act.
The first act is a little slow-going since most of it is the story we already know, but it also contains a lot of magical moments such as Cinderella magical transformation from rags to ball gown right before our eyes. The second act really picks up the pace and adds quite a lot of subversive humor (there is a bit of political commentary that applies to our current climate), and Ella’s other sister Charlotte completely steals every scene she’s in. We’re also kept wondering just how the Prince and Cinderella will finally get together, so that adds to the interest and enjoyment of the second act.
Tatyana Lubov is a perfect Cinderella, giving the character a sharp intelligence and a generosity for her fellow villagers. When she meets and falls for the Prince, she never just becomes a silly girl in love, but remains a strong woman throughout. Lubov’s voice is also beautiful, giving life to the classic (and new) R+H songs and blending wonderfully with her Prince in a showstopping duet in the second act.
Hayden Stanes as Prince Topher (no, not Charming) is a delight, bringing equal amounts confidence (or arrogance) and befuddlement to the role. He’s no dummy though, just kept in the dark by his advisors until he meets the mysterious young woman at the ball. Stanes’ voice is strong and that aforementioned duet with Lubov is a thing of beauty.
Leslie Jackson as Marie/Fairy Godmother gets to shine in a couple of numbers, while Sarah Primmer’s Madame isn’t as wicked as wicked stepmothers can be. She’s a bit of a tyrant around the house but you won’t come away booing her for treating Ella like dirt. Mimi Robinson plays step-sister Gabrielle, the one with the real heart of gold. She actually stands up to her mother for her treatment of Ella, and then again when Madame learns of her secret lower middle class boyfriend. She brings a real warmth to the character and it’s nice to see her bonding with Ella and not stabbing her in the back. The show’s break out star, however, is Joanna Johnson as step-sister Charlotte. Johnson gives Charlotte a sassy attitude who is quick with the one-liners and steals the spotlight in her second act number. She gets all of the funniest lines too, and Johnson’s performance may well be the highlight of the show.
The production design is spectacular with a forest scene on stage as you enter the theatre. Various set pieces, from the cottage interior to the castle staircase move on and off stage with ease, keeping the show vibrant and colorful. The magical effects of Cinderella’s transformation are done well with some attempts at misdirection to distract you from the change (I completely missed the last change as I was busy looking at something else thrown into the air, thinking that was going to somehow change … nice job by director Mark Brokaw). The costumes by William Ivey Long are also quite spectacular, looking as if they could be quite heavy yet in actuality are quite light due to their ability to be transformed into another costume before your eyes.
Overall, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella may drag a little in the first act, but it all comes together quite nicely right from the top of Act II with a terrific score, charming and quite funny dialog, terrific performances, and eye-popping production and costume design, making the show a delight for all ages. The show runs through November 6 in Baltimore, then tours will into 2017 hitting nearly 60 cities in the US and Canada including Indianapolis, Columbus, Knoxville, Austin, Fort Lauderdale, Baton Rouge, Little Rock, Peoria, Wilmington, Huntsville, Roanoke, Richmond, Milwaukee, Vancouver, Spokane, Fresno, Reno, Salt Lake City and many more. You can get more information on the official website.
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