Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
The touring cast is terrific, from the royal court to the townspeople and peasants. Paige Faure is a lovely delight as Ella, seeming equally at home in the woods and the palace. Swampscott native Andy Huntington Jones is charmingly insecure as the young prince Topher who is immediately smitten with the kind young woman he meets in the forest. Their connection is genuine, firmly established when their eyes lock, and etched in stone when they sing together. Both Faure and Jones showcase their wonderful voices when they solo, but they soar in their romantic duets "Ten Minutes Ago," "Loneliness of Evening," and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?".
Strong performances abound, from Beth Glover as Madame (the evil stepmother) to Liz McCartney as Marie (the good Fairy Godmother) and the comical stepsisters Gabrielle (Kaitlyn Davidson) and Charlotte (Aymee Garcia), all of whom sing with power and act with panache. Blake Hammond (Sebastian) makes a great villain as the prince's sinister right-hand man, and Chauncey Packer impresses with his operatic vocal prowess as Lord Pinkleton, the royal herald. Will Blum (Jean-Michel) effectively portrays the revolutionary poor man (think Occupy Movement) who hopes for an audience with the prince while also trying desperately to court Gabrielle.
The beloved tale was written for television, first airing on CBS in 1957, starring a very young Julie Andrews. Hammerstein wrote the original book, but the producers of the Broadway version wanted it to be contemporary with a more active Cinderella. Enter new book writer Douglas Carter Beane whose humorous script harkens back to the original source, Charles Perrault's 1697 fairy tale. Among the elements that Beane altered, the foremost shifts the balance of power between Ella and Topher, making them equal partners as she helps him find his way as the ruler of the land. She is empowered by the Fairy Godmother to make her own dreams come true, transforming not only her own life, but the lives of everyone around her by teaching them to be kind.
While the actors are committed to the spin that Beane has given their characters, it just feels a bit off. In their zeal to show little girls that princesses can save the day, the producers have denied all of us the opportunity to just enjoy the simplicity of the old-fashioned fairy tale. There are new stories (Frozen) with female heroines, and smart girls who don't have to rely on boys or men to save them (Hermione in Harry Potter); there can never be too many, but it isn't necessary to rewrite every story with a feminist template. The character of Cinderella has always conveyed inner strength and grace by maintaining her good nature and being true to herself in the face of the treatment she receives from her stepmother and stepsisters. Despite their constant torment, she triumphs with the love and support of the creatures in the forest and her Fairy Godmother, as well as that of the prince.
Under the musical direction of conductor Valerie Gebert, the Rodgers & Hammerstein score remains the most compelling aspect of Cinderella and it is beautifully realized here in song and dance. Josh Rhodes' balletic choreography for the peasants is lively and energetic, while the lords and ladies of the Court perform a dignified gavotte and an exquisite waltz ("Cinderella's Waltz"). Adding to the beauty of the scenes at Court are the colorful and detailed gowns, only some of the 330 Tony Award-winning period costumes designed by William Ivey Long. However, his greatest creations involve the costume changes where Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother go from rags to ball gowns in the blink of an eye, right in front of the audience (twice!). I knew it was coming and it still caught me by surprise!
There is additional magic in Anna Louizos' scenic design, with the family's cottage in the woods looking like images in a book of fairy tales, and smoke and lights helping to transform a pumpkin into a carriage. Putting the trees into motion creates the sense of travel, and a large clock dominates the backdrop at the palace to remind us all of the fleeting nature of time and magic. Lighting designer Kenneth Posner bathes the cottage in a warm glow of afternoon sun, fills the night sky with twinkling stars and moonlight, and uses lanterns to light the way when Topher and his party pursue Cinderella through the forest after the ball. Sound designer Nevin Steinberg successfully meets the challenges of the Opera House, allowing all of Hammerstein's lyrics to be heard clearly.
Transformation, empowerment, dreams, kindness, and romance are only some of the themes that play out in this big, lush musical. Children and former children can appreciate it on their own level. Some things will make you laugh, some may make you cry, and some will most definitely take your breath away. Whether or not you believe in magic, there is a special power in the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein that just might transport you back to the Golden Age of musical theater.
The Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella touring production, performances through October 11, 2015, at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA; Tickets at Ticketmaster 800-982-2787 or www.BroadwayInBoston.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.Cinderellaonbroadway.com.
Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, New Book by Douglas Carter Beane, Original Book by Oscar Hammerstein II; Directed by Mark Brokaw, Choreographed by Josh Rhodes, Orchestrations by Danny Troob, Music Adaptation, Supervision and Arrangements by David Chase; Scenic Design, Anna Louizos; Costume Design, William Ivey Long; Lighting Design, Kenneth Posner; Sound Design, Nevin Steinberg; Hair & Wig Design, Paul Huntley; Music Director & Conductor, Valerie Gebert; Music Coordinator, Howard Joines; Production Stage Manager, Seth F. Barker
Cast: Paige Faure, Andy Huntington Jones, Will Blum, Kaitlyn Davidson, Aymee Garcia, Blake Hammond, Chauncey Packer, Beth Glover, Liz McCartney, Chip Abbott, Adrian Baidoo, Summer Broyhill, Audrey Cardwell, Cody Davis, Rachel Fairbanks, Alexandra Frohlinger, Jordana Grolnick, Eric Anthony Johnson, Danielle Jordan, Ben Lanham, Lauren Lukacek, Sean Seymour, Lauren Sprague, Paige Williams, Tanner Ray Wilson, Thad Turner Wilson, John Yi