The First National Tour of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is as fun and frothy as the ball gowns they wear. The recent Broadway production adds an updated, Tony-nominated book by Douglas Carter Beane with a sly, clever sense of humor to the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein score. Gorgeous costumes, a talented cast, high production values, and a script far funnier than I’d anticipated all contribute to a stellar tour.
The revised book has added a new element to the traditional Cinderella story. There’s still the fairy godmother, the pumpkin turning into a carriage, the midnight deadline, the glass slippers, and the prince at the ball. But another layer of intrigue has been added by giving the prince a corrupt advisor who has been encouraging the prince to be heroic and ignore the advisor’s surreptitious power grab. Cinderella goes to the ball because it’s a glorious party, yes, but her primary motivation is to make the prince aware that people are being evicted from their lands. This twist freshens up the old story by giving Cinderella higher stakes. It’s no longer just a romantic fairytale; it has become a story of championing the poor and working against corruption.
Ella (Paige Faure, fresh from playing Ella on Broadway) has a beautiful voice, and she’s a little quirky, on the endearing side of awkward. Beth Glover makes an entertaining stepmother. I was pleased to see Kecia Lewis as the fairy godmother; while she has significant Broadway experience, I remember her from the last show I saw on Broadway, The Drowsy Chaperone. Prince Topher (Andy Jones, the Topher understudy from the original Broadway cast) reminds me of a golden retriever puppy – sweet, pretty, trusting, not the cleverest one around. He’s well-intentioned, but he hasn’t given much thought to the world around him, which is an issue for someone who is supposed to be the ruler.
Cinderella’s biggest weakness is inherent in story of Cinderella itself – namely, the foolishness of identifying someone based on whether they fit a particular shoe. This new imagining of Cinderella at least acknowledges that. The other big weakness, in my opinion, is the love at first sight storyline – their eyes meet across the room; they dance; suddenly, they’re in love and must be together. Pretty superficial, if you ask me. (To quote a certain Disney movie, “you can’t marry a man you just met.”)
In this variation, Cinderella is noticed not just her beauty but for her kindness. Ella turns a game of ridicule into sincere compliments, and she opens the prince’s eyes to the damage being done to the kingdom in his name. Perhaps that still isn’t enough for a marriage, but it’s a sight better than just looking good in a ball gown.
Cinderella was unexpectedly amusing. There were also lavish costumes, special effects – flying; no fewer than three onstage costume changes, with tattered clothes swirling into extravagant gowns; a pumpkin turning into a carriage – and a Rodgers and Hammerstein score (“Stepsister’s Lament” is hilarious). All in all, they managed to turn Cinderella – that classic, and potentially tired, fairytale – into something fresh and interesting. It’s no The Book of Mormon (on several levels), but it is a high quality national tour and a lovely holiday show for the family and still enjoyable for an adult without children.
Broadway In Chicago at Cadillac Palace Theatre – 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago
Running December 16, 2014 – January 04, 2015
Runtime: Two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission