I remember vividly when Rodger's and Hammerstein's CINDERELLA appeared on CBS television back in 1957. It was not the first musical to be produced for television -- both NBC and CBS produced "specials" that were original musicals or revivals of classic musicals -- but it was the most prestigious. It was by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the biggest names in musical theatre,and it starred Julie Andrews of MY FAIR LADY fame. The musical was produced live (later remade in the age of videotape with Leslie Ann Warren and again decades later in an awful version with someone called Brandi). Since its first appearance on television, there have been various attempts to produce a stage version. This one, titled RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA (like THE GERSHWIN'S PORGY AND BESS), is the latest incarnation. A clever new book with several original twists on the familiar story has been written by Douglas Carter Beane and songs have been added that were cut from other Rodgers and Hammerstein shows. All the "new" songs are very strong and make fine additions to the original score. The result of all this is a delightful show that will appeal to adults, particularly those of us old enough to remember the original, as well as the little girl demographic. This Prince learns through Cinderella and her friends, to be a democrat. As one would expect from Douglas Carter Beane, the show is sprinkled with witty one-liners.
The producers and director Mark Brokaw has cast the show from strength. Laura Osnes is a delight in the title role. She's a good singer with a strong personality (SMASH might have worked with someone like her instead of that personification of blandness in the pivotal role). The wonderful, award-winning comic actress Harriet Harris does her usual stuff as Cinderella's nasty stepmother and Victoria Clark sings beautifully as the often airborne Fairy Godmother. The real star, though, is Santino Fontana as the prince. In the original television version, the prince was played by the aptly named Jon Cypher -- other than a couple of songs, the role was underwritten. In this version, the Prince gets the opening number and the story is as much his as Cinderella's. I have seen Fontana be brilliant in a number of non-musical roles. Who knew he could carry a big musical? He's also a terrific singer -- better than any other Broadway leading man I have heard recently -- and he can dance.
While the story has been spruced up considerably, the production looks like a traditional 1950s production. One doesn't mind that given the music. There's none of the surprising visual invention of MATILDA. The choreography is very conventional. Still, it is great to hear this score so well sung -- and played by a big, old-fashioned Broadway orchestra. We enjoyed it immensely.
By the way, the Broadway Theatre is the most user friendly theatre on Broadway. It's gigantic and the legroom isn't good, but it has the best lobbies and amenities.
RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA. Broadway Theatre. March 13, 2013.