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Regional Reviews: New Jersey

A Special Treat for All Ages:
Magical Cinderella at Paper Mill

Also see Bob's review of Gem of the Ocean and Julius Caesar

Angela Gaylor and
Paolo Montalban

The totally delightful, shimmering Paper Mill production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella exceeds all expectations. Succeeding triumphantly on all levels, it is likely the finest stage adaptation yet seen.

Cobbled together from so many different sources, the Paper Mill Cinderella has no business being as good as it is. The original book for the famed 1957 television production was by Oscar Hammerstein. The current expanded version for the stage was adapted by Tom Briggs from the teleplay by Robert L. Freedman for the 1997 Disney television adaptation, and features four songs interpolated from other Rodgers and Hammerstein works. While not every element fuses seamlessly together, the stitches never seriously distract from the high entertainment quotient each element contributes.

The original Rodgers and Hammerstein score is, as it always was, a delightful treat. There is a lilting lightness to it that exceeds anything in the Rodgers and Hammerstein cannon. The atypical delight "A Lovely Night" is a prime example. "When You're Driving Through the Moonlight" combines lyrical joy, narrative and rich humor. From the instrumental waltz to the ballads to the up-tempo and light charm, humor and plot songs, there is not one song in the entire score that is not first rate.

In order to expand the 70-minute work to 100 minutes (about two hours with intermission), for the stage, it has been necessary to expand the score. Most notably, Rodgers' lilting "The Sweetest Sounds" has been seamlessly integrated as the evening's major ballad. It is sung by the Prince and Cinderella as each separately traverses the marketplace near the top of the first act. Similarly, it is later reprised by each, and thereafter the melody is employed as a musical leitmotif for the pair. (As No Strings is rarely produced, and "the Sweetest Sounds" is so beautifully arranged and aptly employed here only a churl could object). "Loneliness of Evening" (cut from South Pacific) allows the Prince to express his mood at the ball before the arrival of Cinderella. The beautiful "There's Music in You" from an obscure 1953 movie, From Main Street to Broadway (check it out online at the movie database) is a lost, true Rodgers and Hammerstein gem that provides melodic and lyrical beauty for the wedding scene finale. The only added song which is not an exact fit is "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" originally cut from Oklahoma. This pretty, low key ballad has long resisted attempts to successfully place it elsewhere. Here the lyric is inappropriate for the elderly King and Queen. Overall, the suitability, integration and quality of the interpolated songs is magnificent.

Angela Gaylor is a rather modern, hoydenish Cinderella. As the royal steward tells the Prince, "She sure is a bad slammer jammer." I am certain that this interpretation of Cinderella works better for today's youngsters than Julie Andrew's more restrained and delicate one. Hey, times change, and it would be silly not to acknowledge this. Gaylor is fully ingratiating and sings beautifully. Paolo Montalban is truly a charming Prince. The naturalness of his easy going grace and charm are ideal here. Montalban carries this manner over to his singing. His secure and pleasant voice always remains appropriately tender. Montalban and Gaylor are a pleasure in their singing of "Ten Minutes Ago" and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful."

Their efforts are ably abetted by a very strong supporting cast. The role of the Fairy Godmother is an example of where seams show. However, Suzzanne Douglas delivers on each facet of her role superlatively. In the scene where she transforms pumpkin, coach, et al., she starts out like a sassy down-to-earth Pearl Bailey (actually, the seeds for this interpretation are in her song "Fol-De-Rol"). However, before the scene is over, she will turn Lena Horne queenly in instructing the coachman, "To the ball, Charles." Leading the singing of "There's Music in You," her beautiful voice and regal demeanor make for a very grand finale.

The modern, lowbrow comic writing (likely carried over from the Freedman television adaptation) is not seamless with the more traditional fairy tale elements. However, it is excellently performed and provides most entertaining comic relief with broad appeal. Only obdurate purists will deny themselves from taking pleasure in it.

Nora Mae Lyng (Stepmother), Janelle Anne Robinson (Grace), and Jen Cody (Joy) are an excellent trio of comediennes playing off each other with expert timing. Cody is particularly resourceful and hilarious. Stanley Wayne Mathis as the royal steward stands out with his strong singing ("The Prince Is Giving a Ball") and flair for comedy. He is a star waiting to be born. Joy Franz (she sings beautifully) and Larry Keith make a fine mismatched royal couple.

A puppet cat (who will become a coachman) and four puppet cats (who will become horses) display humor and personality. Operated and voiced by actors dressed head to toe in blue, the puppets add to the production's delight.

There is a brief rhymed prologue. It is silly and boring, and should be exorcised.

The Paper Mill production is based on the national touring production which went out in 2002. It was directed by Gabriel Barre and scenically designed by James Youmans who are repeating their assignments here.

The scenic design by James Youmans is most astute and appealing. Without overwhelming the material, Youmans has created a sense of grandeur. Effectively employed are four impressive stage wide curtained arches behind the proscenium. There is a three-dimensional lighted castle downstage center which is always present when we are not at the palace. The set pieces are large, colorful fairy tale book style cutouts. Abetted by the appropriately bright and warm lighting design of Tim Hunter, the scenery is a visual delight. Pamela Scofield's sometimes whimsical costumes, including bright and clashing comic book colors for Cinderella's step relatives, add to the visual pleasure.

The star of the evening is director Gabriel Barre who must get the lion's share of the credit for joining the disparate elements together so very well. The pacing is excellent. The production feels neither padded nor too small. It never suggests its origins as a television special. It is chockablock with a myriad of directorial touches, large and small, which provide a texture well beyond that normally available in a fairy tale musical. The best choreography is reserved for the remarkably delightful shadow play scene (viewed through a back lit curtain) in which the Prince and his steward scour the land to find the maiden who wore the glass slipper. And, you will be delighted by the pyrotechnics aiding the transformation of a pumpkin into a coach. It is a gorgeous effect.

Paper Mill audiences are going to love Cinderella. It is purely and simply a delightful, fun filled evening. As soon as word gets out as to how delightful it is, parents will be lining up at the box office in droves. At the opening night performance, a very large number of (very well behaved) children were already present A vast majority of the youngsters were girls. However, this should not keep adult audiences away. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is a delight for people of all ages, and, more and more, it is looking like a theatre musical for the ages.

Cinderella continues performances through (Eves: Wed, Thu. & Sun. 7:30 p.m.; Fri & Sat. 8 p.m.; Mats. Thu., Sat., Sun. 2 p.m.) through December 4, 2005 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041; Box Office: 973-376-4343; online

Cinderella Music by Richard Rodgers, Book by Oscar Hammerstein II; adapted for the stage by Tom Briggs from a television play by Robert L. Freedman; directed by Gabriel Barre

Cast (in order of appearance)
Fairy Godmother…………...Suzzanne Douglas
Cinderella……………………….Angela Gaylor
Stepmother……………………norma Mae Lyng
Grace…………...........Janelle Anne Robinson
Joy………………………………………...Jen Cody
Prince Christopher…………..Paolo Montalban
Lionel, Royal Steward…stanley Wayne Mathis
Queen……………………………………joy Franz
King…………………………………..Larry Keith
Additional Cast:
Lauren Brim; James Bulleri; Jacqueline Colmer;
Ron Destefano; Daisy Hobbs; Paul Jackel;
Karina Michaels; Skie Ocasio; Diane Veronica Phelan;
Jason Robinson; Dante Russo; Leah Sprecher;
Tina Stafford; David Tankersley; Erin Webley;
Jason Weston

Photo: Goodstein

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- Bob Rendell

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