Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella

With so many strong parts it’s a shame the sum is such a tedious whole in director Mark Brokaw’s Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella at the Broadway Theatre. I found myself longing for it to end.

My expectations were partly to blame. I had loving memories of watching the 1965 TV version with Lesley Ann Warren as a child, but this version, the first to be staged on Broadway, has been so reworked by book writer Douglas Carter Beane that the title should have been rewritten as well. In Act Two of his version Cinderella  turns into a champion of the poor, introducing needy villagers to the prince who instantly promises to reside over a reformed kingdom. What was wrong with the original, which began as a 1957 television film starring Julie Andrews (which I saw and enjoyed on DCD)?

Equally as important in sinking this production, if not more so, are the performances of the fairy tale leads, Laura Osnes as Cinderella and Santino Fontana as her Prince, whose name is Topher, short for Christopher. (Once again, change is not always better. Topher?) Charming he is not, nor is she. It’s like watching two attractive people with lovely voices but who are there in body only. They lack heart and soul. Listening to their mechanical duets of “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” was like hearing a Musak version of a beloved song. So even one of the greatest strengths of the show, the music, which incorporates songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue as well as from the original television version, was tarnished.

Their disengagement had caused another song I loved as a child, “It’s Possible,” to fall flat. Cinderella sings this as she’s getting into her pumpkin-turned-coach, but in Osnes’ handling with none of the enchantment of a girl who has just witnessed this magic, is wearing a beautiful white gown and glass slippers whipped up moments before by her fairy godmother and who is heading to a ball to meet the prince. She transmits no sense of excitement or wonder. She appeared to be going through the blocking in her head -- first I step into the carriage, then turn to look back at the forest, etc., while her voice sings the song for her.

Harriet Harris, Marla Mindelle and Ann Harada had some comic moments as the wicked stepmother, Madame, and her daughters Gabrielle and Charlotte, but the great talent of Victoria Clark as Marie, the fairy godmother, is wasted in a silly creature who flies above the stage on behalf of Cinderella.

William Ivey Long’s costumes are terrific -- loved the quick change pieces he created for Cinderella’s transformations -- Josh Rhodes stirs up some lively choreography, nicely blending ballet with ballroom dancing and Anna Louizos’ sets create an appropriately fairy tale-like forest -- with furry animals popping out of the trees, Cinderella’s home and the castle.

And, of course, the score is a winner. Maybe it will come off better on the cast recording. It’s lost in mediocrity here.

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