Cinderella is far from the best thing that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, but a new touring production of the Broadway duo’s 1957 musical stopping at the Fox Theatre through November 8 still musters enough sparkle to bring the classic story to life.
The Broadway duo of composer Richard Rodgers and writer Oscar Hammerstein II originally created the musical not for the stage, but for television as a vehicle for a pre-Sound of Music and pre-Mary Poppins Julie Andrews. (The show was memorably broadcast on television again in 1997 starring Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Alexander and Brandy in the lead role of Cinderella; a 1965 version starred Lesley Ann Warren.)
Even as a television production, it’s a little stagey (the stage was, after all, the duo’s home), so its transfer back to the theater is not a particularly effortful or unseemly one. The current revival features a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, so those familiar with the television broadcasts will notice plot and character changes (the prince has no parents, there’s a comic protestor running around singing a new song, etc.).
But the bulk of the numbers are retained and the feel of the thing remains intact. There are a few jokes with a more contemporary edge, but no modern or bawdy surprises or the like.
It’s fair to guess that a viewer headed to a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is seeking something reassuringly old-school and old-fashioned (no judgment), and it’s fair to say that they’ll be satisfied with this production.
From opening overture to comic numbers, from dancing choruses to the fairytale romantic ending, it’s clear that by 1957, Rodgers and Hammerstein had gotten the mixture down to an airtight formula. Which is also to say that the goings-on can feel a little formulaic; there’s a distant and desultory quality to the various developments (now it’s time for Cinderella to sing a number about wishing for a different life, now it’s time for the fairy godmother to sing a number about magic, now it’s time for Cinderella and the prince to sing together, and so on).
Surprisingly, the lyrics and melodies aren’t memorable, fun, romantic or catchy, the way we think of classic numbers from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s other works like South Pacific, Oklahoma! or The Sound of Music. And while the story of Cinderella is comfortably familiar and beloved, it’s also, well, a little predictable.
The stage magic is scaled down as it tends to be in touring productions. Things that should be given the theatrical works like Cinderella’s six-horse carriage or the dragon that the prince fights in the opening scene are disappointingly small and chintzy.
Cinderella towers over her fake horses, which are waist-high and strung with what looks like Christmas lights, and the dragon looks like it’s wearing a praying mantis costume from Party City. With clever stagecraft, however, a little can still become a lot. A few wardrobe mechanics allow Cinderella’s dress to transform on stage, a simple trick which is so lovely it’s used, successfully, about five times in the show.
The cast is strong with Kaitlyn Davidson and Andy Huntington Jones making very appealing, if somewhat bland, Cinderella and Prince. Color is added to the story through the comic roles of the step-sisters, the prince’s malicious advisor and especially Blair Ross as a fashionably blasé, fed-up-with-it-all stepmother.
Viewers don’t head to a show like Cinderella for big surprises, and for better or worse, they won’t find any in this latest touring production. It’s not a perfect show, but it still provides the appropriate doses of romance, music and laughs in the expected places.
It’s a swell show for kids, and its setting at the Fox Theatre, a fairytale in and of itself, is hard to beat. No one seemed more delighted than the little girls in tiaras and ball gowns, which is exactly as it should be.