Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA brings magic to Fox
– By Cate Marquis –
The Fox Theater brings a magical end to the holiday season with “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” a charming, funny musical that combines hummable tunes and a more modern take on the familiar tale, on stage from Dec. 27 to 31.
This 2013 Tony award winning Broadway version is a stage adaptation of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s original 1957 television production, which starred Julie Andrews. The Broadway version features an updated book by Douglas Carter Beane, based in part of Hammerstein’s original adaptation of the classic fairy tale. The story is a bit different from the Disney one, with both more humor and a meaningful pro-democracy message. In this version, Cinderella doesn’t just want to go to the ball to meet the prince; she wants to open his eyes to the plight of the poor in his kingdom.
The production’s bouncy optimism and more modern message about kindness and fairness make this Cinderella a better choice for contemporary parents who may not be as comfortable with the Disney version of the story. This Cinderella has more going on that just dreams of romance and is more assertive about encouraging kindness. On top of that, the laugh-out-loud humor and colorful characters, as well as lavish staging, make this show entertaining for both kids and adults.
The basic fairy tale outline is the same but the story and characters are embellished in clever ways. Young Prince Topher (Louis Griffin) slays dragons and giants with ease but he is still trying to figure out who he is and what kind of ruler he wants to be for his kingdom. As he passes through a small village, a kind impulse brings him in contact with a girl in drab dress, Cinderella (Tatyana Lubov), who encourages him to listen to his subjects when he becomes king.
Kind-hearted Cinderella, of course, lives with her harsh, social-climbing stepmother Madame (Sarah Smith) and two stepsisters, demanding Charlotte (Joanna Johnson) and timid Gabrielle (Nicole Zelka). The stepmother is comically over-the-top dreadful but the daughters are more silly than mean. Actually one stepsister. Gabrielle, is kinder but still very much under the thumb of her mother. Cinderella loves books and dreams of travel. She is particularly kindly towards beggar woman Marie (Leslie Jackson), a kooky, boisterous, outspoken character who is shunned by most of the village.
At the urging of his adviser and guardian Sebastian (Christopher Swan), the young prince decides to throw a ball and invite all single ladies of his kingdom to it, with the intention of finding a bride. All are invited, regardless of station, as long as they have one of the invitations that the herald (Vincent B. Davis) is handing out and a suitable ball gown. Everyone in the village are thrilled and even Cinderella dreams of going. But there is the matter of that dress.
The production is packed with colorful costumes, magical transformations, singing and dancing, and, of course, comedy. Fans of Rodgers and Hammerstein classic musicals such as “South Pacific” will find plenty of hummable memorable tunes, such as “Impossible/It’s Possible,” “Ten Minutes Ago,” “In My Own Little Corner,” and other familiar classics.
The staging is dazzling. The high-flying dancing is athletic with breathtaking,choreography by Josh Rhodes and Lee Wilkins. Besides the beautiful large movable sets and glittering colorful costumes, there are several on-stage transformations that will dazzle and leave you wondering just how they did that. William Ivey Long’s clever costume designs allow magical transformation from rags to ball gowns right before our eyes on stage. When old Marie reveals herself to be Cinderella’s fairy godmother, she does so by twirling around and changing her rags into a sparkling, flowing gown. Similar stage magic changes Cinderella’s plain drab dress into a beautiful white ball gown, and the pumpkin and her forest friends, Fox and Raccoon, are transformed into the carriage, footman and driver.
It makes for a magical evening indeed, as well as a romantic and funny one. One of the funniest numbers is stepsister Charlotte’s “Stepsister’s Lament,” with lyrics like “Oh why would a fellow want a girl like her/A girl who’s merely lovely/Why can’t a fellow ever once prefer/A girl who’s merely me?” Beside the romance between Cinderella and the Prince, there is a side romance for one of the stepsisters with the local rabble-rouser, a little bit of court intrigue and even an election for a new prime minister. It still has all the familiar fairy tale moments but the love story is sweeter and stronger for being enhanced by rounding out the characters and their story.
Both children and adults will enjoy this beautiful and hilarious production, even those who do not particularly care for musicals. It makes a nice cap for the holiday season about giving and kindness.
© Cate Marquis