“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” becomes a revisionist fairy tale

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"Cinderella" photo by Carol Rosegg

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella started out as a 90-minute original live musical for television in 1957, with Julie Andrews in the title role. It was remade twice for television, with Lesley Ann Warren starring in 1965 and Brandy Norwood in 1997. Each time they added numbers from other Richard Rodgers musicals. The show finally reached Broadway in 2013 with a revised book by playwright Douglas Carter Beene. That version was the one presented at the State Theatre in New Brunswick.

The musical, while not one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best works, still retains a light sparkle of magic and has a number of charming tunes to delight the audience. Beene’s revised book puts a more contemporary spin on the familiar story: Cinderella, in love with Prince Topher, wants to open his eyes to injustices in the kingdom, with help from friend and would-be revolutionary Jean-Michel. Topher’s wicked chancellor, Sebastian, plans to be the true power in the kingdom, and to that end is plotting with Madame, Cinderella’s stepmother, to marry the Prince to Madame’s daughter Charlotte.

"Cinderella" photo by Carol Rosegg
“Cinderella” photo by Carol Rosegg

Gabrielle, Madame’s other daughter, and Jean-Michel are in love. Overseeing all of this is the fairy godmother Marie, who provides Cinderella not only with good advice but also with a generous helping of magic.

Understudy Kaitlyn Mayse did a fine job in the title role, creating a heroine who easily blends the young romantic girl with the socially aware young woman. It is not surprising that she retrieves and runs off with her glass slipper after the ball, yet deliberately leaves it behind after a palace banquet. She is perfectly partnered with the slightly dim but earnest and charming prince of Louis Griffin.

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"Cinderella" photo by Carol Rosegg
“Cinderella” photo by Carol Rosegg

airy-tale evil is embodied in Christopher Swan’s Sebastian and Sarah Smith’s Madame, while extra humor is provided by Joanna Johnson’s chubby Charlotte, Nicole Zelka’s gawky, giggly Gabrielle, and Corbin Williams’ unsteady Jean-Michel. The ensemble makes a fine singing and dancing chorus. But every version of the Cinderella story requires a loving and wise fairy godmother, and this version has an outstanding one in Leslie Jackson, whose performance radiates warmth and magic.

"Cinderella" photo by Carol Rosegg
“Cinderella” photo by Carol Rosegg

The Tony-award winning costumes of William Ivey Long are a riot of color and rich design. However, Anna Louizos’ scenic design was, overall, too dark for a musical fairy tale, with pitch-black skies and dark brown sliding panels shaped like trees to indicate the forest. While the orchestra was technically fine, some of the numbers, especially the waltzes in the ballroom scene and the song “Ten Minutes Ago”, were lacking in sweep and punch, robbing the show or the romantic magic of first love. It also didn’t help that the microphones of the two leads were not on during the opening scene, robbing the Prince of the show’s opening number, “Me, Who Am I?”, and losing some establishing dialog.

"Cinderella" photo by Carol Rosegg
“Cinderella” photo by Carol Rosegg

Still, the show is an enjoyable diversion, and manages to captivate children as well as give adults some more mature humor. While Rodgers & Hammerstein’s score is not one of their best, even so-so R&H is a notch above many other musicals. For a pleasant musical evening, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella will not disappoint. Information about the tour can be found at CinderellaOnBroadway.com.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was presented at the State Theatre in New Brunswick on February 9-10, 2018. The next production in the State Theatre’s Broadway season will be Motown the Musical, playing March 23-25, 2018. For tickets and information, visit STNJ.org/Broadway.