In Douglas Carter Beane’s new book for the stage “revisical” of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s TV musical Cinderella, our heroine transforms France from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in one fell swoop! Alright, it’s only a brief moment in the show, which generally hits all of the expected marks of the beloved fairy tale. But it’s a perfect example of the delightful surprises Beane has worked into the show. This new Cinderella is witty, smart and fresh, while still having plenty for the kiddies.
The Rodgers & Hammerstein score has the verve they always had – lots of those soaring Rodgers waltzes – even if it isn’t filled with immortal standards like Oklahoma or South Pacific. Beane’s book has his trademark wit all over it, and crams a surprising amount of plot and ideas into its economical structure. Director Mark Brokaw has staged Cinderella with lots of skill, spectacle and energy, if without much originality or insight. The show’s great coups de théâtre all come from costume designer William Ivey Long, who provides us with several astoundingly magical onstage costume changes.
Laura Osnes sings the title role beautifully, even if she doesn’t play it with quite as much spunk as Beane’s new lines suggest. Santino Fontana is charmingly awkward as Prince Topher, Peter Bartlett appropriately oily as the corrupt regent Sebastian. Marla Mindelle and Ann Harada are probably the funniest stepsisters ever, much helped by Beane giving them more personality and less wickedness.
Marvelously wicked, however, is the divine Harriet Harris as Madame, Cinderella’s stepmother – but even she is less wicked than impulsively sadistic because of the hand life has dealt her. I’m not usually a fan of such psychologizing of fairy tale characters, but Beane has crafted Madame with unusual deftness and intelligence. She is probably his most successful creation in the show; Harris knows she’s got a great thing in hand and plays the living daylights out of it.
This Cinderella is far from the best musical I’ve ever seen, or even the best Rodgers & Hammerstein I’ve ever seen. It is, however, consistently entertaining and even occasionally thought-provoking – more so than many, many musicals out there. While I can’t say I loved it, there is no doubt I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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