|A Sublime Moment from 'Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella'|
You know who would just love Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella?
Jake, the four-year-old title character in Daniel Pearle’s play, A Kid Like Jake, currently on view at the Claire Tow Theater. Much discussed but never seen, Jake has begun to show a distinct predilection for playing dress-up and for all things Cinderella, much to the discomfort of his parents.
I say go with the flow, Jake’s Mom and Dad. Honor your son’s—what do you call it?—“gender-variant play”—and take him to the Broadway Theatre to see Cinderella. And after he has feasted his eyes on Anna Louizos’s dazzling set and William Ivey Long’s Tony-winning costumes, buy him a truckload of souvenirs, including the $25.00 glitter T-shirt, the $40.00 clock necklace, and the $30.00 tiara. He will be in Cinderella Heaven!
The same goes for all you parents and caregivers out there. The kids will love it, and, fortunately, you will find much to like as well.
This is true despite the fact that the production is excessively overwritten in order to stretch it out to two hours and fifteen minutes (including intermission—a good time to stock up on those souvenirs), thus rendering it suitable for a long run as a full-scale Broadway musical. By way of contrast, the original 1957 television production, the one that starred Julie Andrews in the title role, ran for 76 minutes, which is just about the right length to get in all the good stuff.
With this production, the good stuff begins with the score, orchestrated by Danny Troob and performed by a nice full orchestra under the direction of Andy Einhorn. I mean, we’re talking Rodgers and Hammerstein here, and even if Cinderella can be considered a lower-shelf work from the masters' oeuvre, it does contain some lovely songs: “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible,” “Ten Minutes Ago” (brings tears to my eyes every time), and “There’s Music In You,” a number interpolated from an obscure movie called Main Street to Broadway (1953) that becomes an anthem of empowerment that the Fairy Godmother sings to Cinderella. Oh, those lovely, uplifting Hammerstein lyrics:
Move a mountain
Light the sky
Make a wish come true
There is music in you
It’s also nice to see a cast of over two dozen filling up the stage and dancing to the very fine choreography by Josh Rhodes. The scene of the ball at the end of Act I is pretty near sublime.
Finally, there are the performances, excellent to a person. Santino Fontana (Prince Topher, aka Prince Charming), always a pleasure to watch on stage, was out during the performance I attended, but truly, his understudy Andy Jones handled the role with plenty of charm and aplomb of his own. Since Cinderella marks his Broadway debut, this is no small accomplishment. Laura Osnes as Cinderella, Victoria Clark as Crazy Marie (aka the Fairy Godmother), and Harriet Harris, Marla Mindelle, and Ann Harada as Cinderella’s step-family all shine in their respective roles. And they are aided in no small part by the rest of the cast. This is a big production, with big production numbers, and so much credit must go to director Mark Brokaw.
Unfortunately, there is a down side, driven by the determination to stretch this pleasant little show to the limits.
Puzzling decisions include opening on a dense forest better suited to a certain Stephen Sondheim show (I was looking for the Baker and his Wife to show up, and half expected Cinderella to sing “I wish to go to the festival” instead of her opening number). Then, what should come lumbering through the forest but a rogue Ent, the tree creature from Lord of the Rings. Don’t ask.
However, things do finally settle down, and Act I turns out to bear sufficient resemblance to the well-known tale so as to be pretty enjoyable. The three lovely songs from the original production that I mentioned previously are all performed in the first act, and it does end with the delightful ball scene and Cinderella’s midnight escape.
It is in Act II that things nearly collapse under the weight of Douglas Carter Beane’s new book. He has re-imagined most of the key characters and has added a plot thread (a thread that grows into a hefty rope in Act II) about government corruption and the mistreatment of the peasants. The jokes and the tone are disconcertedly modern and really do begin to interfere with the main storyline. It takes the sweetly romantic “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” a wedding, and more of William Ivey Long’s scrumptious costumes to bring us back into the story, so that it's (almost) possible to ignore the arrival of Mothra (sorry, I mean the Fairy Godmother) onto the scene, flying above everyone’s heads and bestowing her blessings on all.
Although this production of Cinderella is decidedly a mixed bag, I’m not sorry I saw it, and if I had a little boy or girl, I would not hesitate to bring them. With the sets and costumes, the lively action, and the beautiful singing and dancing, there is plenty enough to please the kids and the grownups. The audience seemed to love it, and the cast appeared to be basking in the joy that spread through the theater. There are, believe me, less entertaining ways to spend an evening.
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