Review: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s different sort of ‘Cinderella’

 The cast of 'Rodgers , Hammerstein's Cinderella,' in its national tour at the Academy of Music. (Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg)

The cast of 'Rodgers , Hammerstein's Cinderella,' in its national tour at the Academy of Music. (Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg)

Down Cinderella’s way, the folks are out of kilter. One of the nasty stepsisters talks back to her mom and reels in disbelief when the prince ignores her at the ball. “Seriously?!,” she bellows. In the name of the clueless prince, his chief-of-staff issues repressive edicts that make his subjects flinch. At the ball, the guests play a caustic game call “Ridicule,” something you’d more likely find on MTV.

 

Cinderella’s fairy godmother offers magic – but wait – they come with confidence lessons. And Cinderella herself manages to lose a glass slipper, then turns around, runs back – and retrieves it.

 

What’s happening here? Where’s the tra-la-la girl, followed by all those cutesy Disney-style buggers flitting about as she provides slave labor at Wicked Stepmother’s house? Well, a few of them are still there – after all, some animals have to morph into coachmen and drive the pumpkin.

But in “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” whose national tour runs at the Academy of Music through Sunday, anyone’s persecution complex must take a back seat to the show’s driver:empowerment. And, of course, love.

“Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” so called to distinguish it from other versions of the European folk tale that eventually became a Grimm Brothers story, is every bit as beautiful to watch in its national tour as it is on Broadway, where it’s about to close after a two-year run. Anna Louizos is responsible for the settings that instantly turn the woods into a ballroom and, just as easily, into the grand stairs where any gal might lose a slipper.

Swell as all that is, the reason I looked forward to “R+H’s Cinderella” is the costumes, which are the same as the knockouts on Broadway. Magnificent in their colors and sweep, they’re equally jaw-dropping for the quick-change properties that allow, say, a beggar woman to evolve before your eyes into a fairy godmother — just one transformation that draws applause from audiences. Designer William Ivey Long earned a Tony Award for them, and they must have made some fabric house rich. They turn the women, gliding from one side of the stage to the other, into a living kaleidoscope. Long also designed a sumptuous bridal gown for Cinderella, with a train that rivals an Acela.

This “Cinderella” (played by the sweet-voiced Paige Faure) is successful in part because its music and its script have separate sensibilities but percolate nicely together. On the one hand, we’re immersed in the frothy musical style of Rodgers and Hammerstein – the easy, catchy tune that gathers strength and orchestration up through its ending. On the other, we have an edgy – almost snarky — new script for the show by playwright Douglas Carter Beane, a Wilkes-Barre-area native who’s written plays like the cutting “The Little Dog Laughed,” and the books for musicals like “Sister Act.”

The cast in the national tour features a less goofy (and better working) interpretation of the prince than on Broadway, played here by Andy Jones. Beth Glover is the put-upon stepmom, Aymee Garcia and Ashley Park play the stepsisters, the big-voiced Antoine L. Smith is a herald and the show-stopping Kecia Lewis is the down-to-earth fairy godmother who flies in and out. It’s a solid cast under the direction of Mark Brokaw, who set it onto Broadway.

“R+H’s Cinderella” began as the only musical the duo wrote for TV, and Julie Andrews played the title role when CBS aired it in 1957 and 60 percent of the nation watched, according to the show’s press materials. It was staged live in London, produced by the New York City Opera and given a live production by Disney – again on TV. Until two years ago, it had never been on Broadway. A bunch of producers at that time looked at this “Cinderella” and figured, if the shoe fits… Like Cinderella, they wore it, in style.

_“Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” in its national tour, runs through Sunday (Nov. 30) at the Academy of Music, Broad Street at Locust. 215-731-3333 or www.kimmelcenter.org/broadway.

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