REVIEW: Cinderella a real Cinderella story

Cinderella GigCity EdmontonIn 1957, I joined over an astonishing 100 million North Americans to watch a live, black-and-white telecast of a new Rogers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella. The show featured that rising new Broadway star, a pre-Oscar Julie Andrews. The design was spectacular and the music was lovely – although not really up to the best of R & H collaborations.

That didn’t stop the hardy vehicle – the tale based on the 1697 Charles Perrault version of an even older folk tale – from being retooled twice more on television followed by a popular Broadway production and innumerable other iterations.

After the recent Broadway remount, the show is now on the road and opened Tuesday in Edmonton for a six night run at the Jubilee Auditorium until April 23.

Families motivated to come to the show expecting the “dream is a wish your heart makes…” message of the Disney animated version may be let down, but what they will get is a spectacular, fully realized and gloriously sung rendition of the original. I don’t think anyone will go home disappointed.

Cinderella GigCity EdmontonThe show was re-imagined for its recent Broadway outing by new book writer Douglas Carter Beane (the original was penned by Hammerstein himself). Perhaps recognizing some of the show’s shortcomings, Beane’s production emphasized costumes and performance, with the addition of some spiky contemporary humour, in a largely fruitful effort to hold modern audiences. He has also interpolated several songs which were cut from other R & H shows.

Beane’s additions don’t blunt the charm of the original, but don’t add a lot either. The dialogue has been considerably spruced up. There are some new scenes that serve to fill in character details for audiences demanding more dimension from the classic Prince and Cinderella roles.

One touch in particular adds quite a bit at the beginning. The Prince (here known as Topher and played by Hayden Stanes) is seen in a series of short battles as a heroic slayer of dragons and various other monsters. With cast iron voice and ingratiating manner, Stanes just about runs off with the show. Another Beane addition that really works is the enlightened gesture Cinderella makes with her glass slipper. It may outrage tradition but it sure is right for this spirited maid – however, you can leave that for the production to explain. Not quite as successful is the intrusion of such modern tropes as unrest among the local rabble leading to an election. It comes off as a rather jarring contempo intrusion into the fairy tale kingdom of handsome Princes and beautiful scullery maids.

Overall, the changes do not seriously damage the enduring charm of the original, and if they occasioned the commissioning of this confection of a production – they are indeed welcome.

The Prince, in this version, is an orphan. His parents apparently were straight out of the Disney canon – benign and loving. But they left the running of the kingdom to the corrupt Lord Protector, Sebastian (Ryan M. Hunt). While the Prince was out battling monsters, Sebastian was robbing the poor.  He expects the young royal to return as a vapid ninny but instead the Prince is questing to find himself, singing Me, Who Am I? (originally written but cut from R & H’s Me and Juliet).

In the first few minutes, Cinderella, (the honey-voiced Tatyana Lubov) sings her lovely signature song, In My Own Little Corner, which immediately establishes her sweet nature and spunky resilience. In a neat device, the lonely Prince, sitting on his throne high in the castle, picks up her refrain, “Just as long as I stay in my own little chair…,” their shared yearnings reaching across the distance and promising the fulfillment to come. Later, when the two combine in the soaring lover’s duet, Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?, the moment will lift you off your seat.

Cinderella indeed has an evil stepmother (Sarah Primmer) and two sisters. One named Gabrielle (Mimi Robinson), turns out to be a rather decent sort – even sharing Cinderella’s secret love. The other, Charlotte (Joanna Johnson), is more out of the traditional mould: self-centred, selfish and no friend of her step-sister, the family drudge. In Johnson’s hands, the screeching Charlotte is a scene-stealing comic creation.

Cinderella’s fairy godmother, known as Marie, is the lovely Leslie Jackson and her lyrical soprano exhilaratingly combines with Lubov’s in the production’s bibiddi bobbiddi boo moment, “It’s possible.”

Anna Louizos’ woodsy sets are spectacular and loom like large scale projections of the illustrations in the fairy tale books of your childhood. It’s all there: the castle, the horses, the pumpkins that change into the coach and an eye-filling ball. There are a couple of instant on-set costume transformations that will leave you thinking, “How did they do that?”  The sure-handed and sympathetic direction of Mark Brokaw is a plus.

Bathed in the warm glow of the lustrous R & H score and with the burnished performances of Lubov and Stanes (aided by a polished and professional supporting cast), this Cinderella is a welcome return to the classic fairy tale of yore and a regally entertaining evening for the entire family.