In the first-ever Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” there is a big clock in the ballroom that speeds from 8 to midnight as Cinderella dances with Prince Charming, to indicate in shorthand the passage of time until the moment she must flee. I couldn’t help thinking: Why can’t the whole show be at this pace?
Now, nearly everything argues against this reaction:
*William Ivey Long’s costumes are gorgeous and even clever (Cinderella’s peasant garb turns into a sparkling ballgown instantaneously before our eyes), complemented by an enchanting (forest) set design by Anna Louizo
*The performers are all wonderful – especially a stunning Laura Osnes as “Ella” and a, well, charming Santino Fontana as Prince “Topher.” (i.e. Cinderella and Prince Charming.) But I’m also hoping that Anne Harada’s comic performance as an evil stepsister will convince the producers of “Smash” to stop her criminal underuse in that series.
*Josh Rhodes has created some exciting choreography, especially a dance sequence where the prince’s men try to find the fleeing Cinderella in the forest, and the footmen turn back into a fox and a raccoon (changed from two mice in the version of the fairy tale with which I am familiar.)
*Above all, there are 17 songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, almost a third of which have been added since the original 1957 television broadcast that starred Julie Andrews. They include the terrific tune, “A Lovely Night,” and some sweetly inventive lyrics by Hammerstein.
But long before its two and a half hours run out, it is clear that all that is right and appealing about this “Cinderella” cannot completely make up for what is wrong — the new script by Douglas Carter Beane.
Taken individually, most of Beane’s changes and additions shouldn’t undermine the story, at least in theory. The prince is well-meaning, even heroic – we first see him outwitting and conquering a tree-like monster. But he is also naïve and insecure (He sings “Me, Who Am I?” a cast-off from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Me and Juliet.”), and is easily manipulated by his villainous counsel, the Lord Protector Sebastian (Peter Bartlett)
One of Cinderella’s stepsisters, Gabrielle (Marla Mindelle) far from being ugly or mean-spirited, is good-hearted, and in love with the town rabble-rouser named Jean-Michel (Greg Hildreth), who wants to tell the prince that the people of the kingdom are impoverished, and treated unfairly. But the evil stepmother Madame (Harriet Harris) keeps her daughter away from Jean-Michel. She and Sebastian have cooked up a plot to marry Gabrielle off to the prince. Sebastian comes up with the idea of a ball for the prince, presumably to put their plan into action, and also in order to distract the prince from the dissent in his kingdom.
In this telling of the fairy tale, Ella has a political motive for going to the ball; she wants to help Jean-Michel alert the prince to what’s really happening to the people in his kingdom.
We first see Cinderella’s fairy godmother (Victoria Clark) as an insane street person named Crazy Marie, to whom Ella had done a kindness….
And so on. The problem with the new material is not that it complicates “Cinderella” but that it doesn’t add up to a coherent whole.
Too much is repetitive: How many times can Cinderella change magically from rags-to-rich-ballgown before it loses its magic? Why is there both a ballroom and a banquet? Why must the Fairy Godmother fly in the air more than once?
It’s fine to put in jokes, but Beane’s are mostly flat: “Why is there a pumpkin on the table? It makes no design sense,” Madame (the stepmother) shrieks at Cinderella the morning after the carriage has been turned back into a pumpkin. In general, the production seems uncertain of what tone to take.
The script doesn’t completely kill the magic. But for all of the wondrous aspects to this stage adaptation, I might hesitate to bring a child who doesn’t yet know the story of Cinderella; I might not want the strained and muddled storyline to be their introduction to the tale.
At Broadway Theater
Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II , new book by Douglas Carter Beane . (Original book by Oscar Hammerstein II)
Mark Brokaw (Direction)
Josh Rhodes (Choreography)
Anna Louizos (Set Design)
William Ivey Long (Costume Design)
Ken Posner (Lighting Design)
Nevin Steinberg (Sound Design)
David Chase (Music Adaptation, Supervision and Arrangements)
Andy Einhorn (Music Director, Conductor)
Cast: Laura Osnes in the title role; Santino Fontana as the Prince; Victoria Clark as Marie, the fairy godmother; Harriet Harris as Madame, Cinderella’s stepmother; Ann Harada as stepsister Charlotte; Marla Mindelle as stepsister Gabrielle; Peter Bartlett as Sebastian, Prince Topher’s mentor and Lord Chancellor; Greg Hildreth as the rebel Jean-Michel; and Phumzile Sojola as Lord Pinkleton. Jill Abramovitz, Kristine Bendul, Drew Franklin, Heidi Giberson, Stephanie Gibson, Shonica Gooden, Kendal Hartse, Robert Hartwell, Laura Irion, Adam Jepsen, Andy Jones, Andy Mills, Linda Mugleston, Alessa Neeck, Peter Nelson, Nick Spangler, Kirstin Tucker, Cody Williams, Branch Woodman, and Kevin Worley
ticket prices: Pricing: $45 – $137 Buy tickets
Running time: two and a half hours including one 15-minute intermission