When you listen to the advertisement for this version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” you’ll hear that Fran Drescher is in the cast. Drescher plays the evil stepmother in pushy purple social climbing fashions. Drescher isn’t as oozingly evil as Cate Blanchett in the recent live-action Disney movie, but this production at the Ahmanson doesn’t need CGI for its magic. The audience gasped at the fairy godmother’s first feat of magic and the music is melodic magic. With a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, this “Cinderella” has a few twists, a bit of revisionism and a lot more humor.
The original Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II production of “Cinderella” was made and performed on TV. That 1957 production featured the crystal clear tones of Julie Andrews as the titular character and Edie Adams was her fairy godmother (Jon Cypher was the Prince). The next woman to slip into the glass slipper and sing about what’s impossible was Lesley Ann Warren in 1965 with Celeste Holm as the fairy godmother and Stuart Damon as the Prince. It was Warren’s first major success, preceding her joining the cast of the TV series “Mission: Impossible.” Warren would join Andrews on the movie “Victor/Victoria.”
Brandy (Norwood), then star of CBS’ “Moesha” was the next Cinderella with the late Whitney Houston as her fairy godmother. Paolo Montalbán was the Prince.
This stage version builds upon the TV version. Beane has added some modern elements to the original Rodgers and Hammerstein book by going back to the original source–the Charles Perrault French language version where he found that Cinderella has something more to commend her to the prince that an incredible glass slipper. She brought kindness to the court. By going back, Beane heard his version called everything from “feminist” to “revisionist.”
That’s all well and good but what had the audience gasping was William Ivey Long’s costume design. I foresaw the on-stage transformation of a beggar woman into the royally purple fairy godmother, but not the amazing transformation of Cinderella, on-stage, into her glorious white gown. For a glorious pumpkin-to-carriage transformation, you’ll have to watch the live-action Disney movie or the 1950 animated feature.
You do know the story, well, sort of. Ella (Paige Faure) lives with her stepmother Madame (Drescher) and her two stepsisters, the kind but timid Gabriel (Kaitlyn Davidson) and the garish and unpleasantly plump Charlotte (Aymee Garcia). Ella’s only friends as a fox and a raccoon. She does protect the local mad woman Marie (Kecia Lewis) from the mistakenly angry actions of the Prince Topher (Andy Huntington Jones). Topher is a dragon-slayer and killer of many beasts, but he opines, “I just wish I was going something more important.” Topher was orphaned as a young child and is under the control of his regent, Sebastian (Branch Woodman).
Madame did marry for love and had two daughters and debt. She then married Cinderella’s father and got a house. Life is rough for a woman and she’s determined to have her daughters marry well.
When the Prince announces there will be a ball, Madame and her girls will attend. The famous dress ripping scene doesn’t come in now, but our girl Cinderella does make it to the ball in a glorious white gown and charms the Prince. She does flee the scene at midnight, resulting in the Prince searching for her.
Overall, this is an enjoyable musical that espouses old-fashioned values of being kind, being brave and even being revolutionary and democratic. As you might expect the mice don’t have a big role here as they do in the Disney animated feature, but they do become great horses for the pumpkin coach.