Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella was written for television and has had three different TV broadcasts: 1957 with Julie Andrews, 1965 with Lesley Ann Warren, and 1997 with Brandy Norwood. Cincinnati hosted a national tour back in 2001 starring Deborah Gibson and Eartha Kitt. Like all major versions of the story, this offering follows the tale of the mistreated step-daughter who is transformed outwardly with the help of her fairy godmother to match her already-present inner beauty just in time to go to the royal ball and fall in love with the prince.
This tour and the recent Broadway revival it's based on have a new book by Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu, Sister Act), which significantly changes the original one by Oscar Hammerstein II. The new story is peppered with effective one-liners, new characters, additional conflict, a secondary romantic couple, and added social commentary. While the main storyline remains the one familiar to everyone, purists may find the changes too substantial, and there are times that the political correctness of the new material is a bit heavy handed (especially in act two). Still, the changes add some effective comedy, more depth to the characters, positive messages, and heightened excitement overall.
The score by Richard Rodgers (music) and Hammerstein (lyrics) includes "The Prince Is Giving a Ball"; Cinderella's want song, "In My Own Little Corner"; "Impossible: It's Possible," a duet for Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother; the love duet "Ten Minutes Ago"; and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?". This version also contains five additional Rodgers & Hammerstein songs not heard in the original TV broadcast. The rich music and wonderfully descriptive lyrics are a good fit for the material and in line with the team's typical quality work.
As Cinderella, Paige Faure is extremely endearing, and sings and dances with great skill. She captures the longing and insecurities of the character, while also conveying her compassion and newly found strength. Andy Jones supplies perfect vocals as Topher (the Prince), and commendably communicates the sincerity and uncertainty of a young Prince. Kecia Lewis is a fine singer and makes some excellent acting choices as Marie, the Fairy Godmother.
As Madame, Cinderella's stepmother, Beth Glover is aptly cruel and chews the scenery to good effect. Aymee Garcia is a laugh riot as mean step-sister Charlotte in both her physical antics and in delivery of her lines, and Ashley Park very effectively conveys the tender-hearted nature of (the now kind) step-sister Gabrielle. David Andino does solid work both vocally and acting-wise as the feisty Jean-Michel, and Antoine L. Smith shows off great singing as Lord Pinkleton. The entire ensemble does a first-rate job in support.
Director Mark Brokaw wisely applies a light touch to the proceedings, bringing a loving tone to the piece. The special effects for the various transformations are visually appealing and impactful, and the scene transitions are especially smooth. Choreographer Josh Rhodes supplies suitable dances throughout, with some beautiful partner work at the ball scene being a highlight. Jay Alger leads a fine sounding orchestra.
The design team consists of some of the best from Broadway. Anna Louizos has created some gorgeous sets, with exquisite details for the woods and Cinderella's home. The costumes by William Ivey Long are apt, varied, and beautiful. The lighting by Kenneth Posner includes fine use of shadows in the woods and some beautiful colors in the backlighting toward the beginning of the show.
This version of Cinderella may have some new twists on the familiar tale, and not quite possess the star power of the last tour stop of the show in Cincinnati, but it is nonetheless an extremely worthwhile way to kick off the 2015 theater scene in town. A superb cast, effective humor, interesting story, top-flight design, and classic songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein make this a great choice for both kids and adults.
Cinderella continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through January 18, 2015. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816. For more information on the tour, please visit cinderellaonbroadway.com/tour.
-- Scott Cain