Previews: 01/24/13- Close: 09/29/13
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella|
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Ashley Griffin
“Glass Slippers Are So Back” boldly declares the poster for the first ever Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”
The problem is, they’re not.
At least not in this version. In recent years there’s been a strong dichotomy between the seeming ever increasing public desire for traditional Fairy Tales, and the corporate pressure to make them “P.C.” The issue at the heart of the dilemma seems, at least to me, that no one understands the underlying point of fairy tales. I am a self proclaimed “Disney Princess” through and through. “The Little Mermaid” is one of my favorite movies, and the original Anderson tale is my favorite story. I always say I have three areas of expertise: Broadway Theater, Shakespeare, and Fairy Tales.
So from someone who grew up with Disney, and went on to study the original tales, I can tell you that I never for one moment thought that the point of, say “Cinderella” was to get a man. To just get married, and then you’ll be happy forever. No, fairy tales are not literal They are metaphors. “Cinderella” is not about a passive girl needing to get a man – it’s a metaphor for the idea that goodness will be rewarded. That ultimately, you will be seen for what’s in your heart, no matter how much the world may tell you you’re worthless. That is a beautiful message. That’s what keeps people coming back to the story. And that was what was so charming about the original Rodgers and Hammerstein T.V production. It celebrated the power of innocence, goodness, and hope.
The new Broadway production seems to have missed that message. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if you’re going to adapt something, make sure you understand what worked about the original in the first place. Instead this version, the first time the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate has allowed their “Cinderella” to be altered seems to have been created by committee. It’s like they had a power meeting, threw every idea at the wall, and kept it there.
“We need to make Ella more of a feminist. She should inspire the Prince! Throw some political strife in there!”
“Yeah! And she should be smart! Who’s that smart princess? Belle? Yeah! Give Ella a book. And put her in a gold dress.”
“And we shouldn’t have archetypal villains. We don’t want to be accused of saying ‘Pretty=Good.’ I know! Lets make the stepsisters nice!”
The result is a non-story story filled with everything but the kitchen sink. So many things seem to be lifted straight out of other works – there are several characters, images, and plot points that all but directly reference “Into The Woods.” There’s a plot point involving one of the stepsisters being in love with a commoner that is directly taken from the direct to video Disney movie “Cinderella 2: Dreams Come True.” Perhaps most tragic of all is how closely much of the most successful direction is to the stunning Papermill Playhouse production of “Cinderella” directed by Gabriel Barre several years ago – which went on to tour nationally. And Mr. Barre’s production did it much better. Why on earth didn’t Mr. Barre direct this production?
The ultimate result is that there are about five different shows going on. Cinderella’s character functions more as the Prince’s fairy godmother then a heroine, and the Prince himself becomes the protagonist of the show. In fact, his character is the only one who has changed in any way by the end of the story. There are no villains – at least no real ones (everyone is smiling and hugging each other in the final song) and there is nothing at stake. There is either no theme, or about fifty – which end up cancelling each other out.
What saves this production, and I do mean saves, are the enchanting performances, and the incredible design. I would happily spend two hours just looking at the beautiful world that’s been created for us. The sets (Anna Louizos), costumes (William Ivey Long – I’m sure he will win the Tony), lighting (an always brilliant Kenneth Posner), sound (Nevin Steinberg) – thank God! Finally a good Broadway sound design where I could actually hear everything! Were all breathtaking. There was truly beautiful use of spectacle – just wait till you see Ella transform into her ball gown(s.) (Though I have to say – how much could anyone in this village possibly be suffering? Everyone looks happy, and quite lovely.)
Ms. Osnes (and I mean this as the highest complement) plays Ella as if she is still at heart a five year old, thrilled beyond belief to be playing Cinderella. She radiates the kind of pure joy and passion one would typically expect from a young girl getting her big break and suddenly being plucked from the chorus to star in the show. Ms. Osnes is clearly rapturous getting to embody this role – as if she has been waiting her whole life to play it. Maybe she has. She is a winning actress, singer, AND dancer. I can’t imagine what would happen to this role (as written) in less capable hands.
Victoria Clark is incredible as the fairy godmother. If the Witch from “Into The Woods” were a good fairy instead of a morally ambiguous witch, she would be Ms. Clark in this enchanting role. Again, some of the imagery very closely recalled “Into The Woods” – but in this case I mean this as a complement to Ms. Clarks wonderful acting ability. Whether the script is clear on it’s theme or not, Ms. Clark is dead clear on what the purpose and theme of her character is – and the most moving moments in the show were her scenes with Ella.
Santino Fontana is doing the best work I have personally seen from him in this show. This is an excellent role for him, and he is making the most of it. The ensemble is also quite good. It is comprised of many varied types, and each performer seems to have taken great pride in crafting a unique and distinct character.
Ms. Osnes, Ms. Clark, and Mr. Fontana form the backbone of this show. When they are onstage performing the incredible traditional Rodgers and Hammerstein “Cinderella” material (with stunning new orchestrations by Danny Troob, if not always stunning arrangements by David Chase) we get a glimpse at what this show COULD have been. One where glass slippers – and all the magic, and hope they represent really were back. The beautiful cast, and spectacular design do their darndest to turn a pumpkin into a golden carriage, but just as Cinderella must rush home at midnight, so too the magic moments of this show disappear just as they begin. The wonder of the “Cinderella” myth is it’s simple, beautiful story. And somehow, that’s exactly what this “Cinderella” is missing.
Broadway Theatre : 1681 Broadway