Douglas Carter Beane’s new book is pithy, timely and keeps a safe distance from camp. He has taken liberties with the story that add interest and depth to it rather than distract from it. This includes a giant tree monster that does battle with the King’s men, Cinderella’s choice to leave her footwear on the steps, and a step-sister who actually likes Cinderella and gets her own man in the end.
In the title role, Laura Osnes is radiant. She gives us a bright and upbeat Cinderella who is her own woman. This Cinderella controls her own destiny by intentionally leaving her shoe on the steps as she runs off at the stroke of midnight.
As Cinderella’s wicked step-mother, Madame, Harriet Harris, that queen of mean, plays her with refreshing evil. The step-sisters are given stand-out performances by Marla Mindelle as Gabrielle and Ann Harada as Charlotte. When Madame refers to her two daughters, she refers to them as “the real ones.” This makes the casting of Harada particularly funny since she’s Asian. While this may have been “color-blind casting,” it contributes nicely to the comedic tongue-in-cheek tone of the rest of the production.
Santino Fontana gives a beguiling performance as the self-conscious and slightly unfocused Prince Topher. This prince needs Cinderella more than Cinderella needs this prince. Topher is being advised by his longtime aide, Sebastian (Peter Bartlett) who has surreptitiously taken control from the Prince resulting in a land-grab on his part. This semi-modern Cinderella pays homage to Occupy Wall Street in the form of Jean-Michel (Greg Hildreth), a radical and outspoken opponent of the King’s policies.
The astonishing Victoria Clark is Cinderella’s fairy god-mother disguised as the town’s mad woman, Crazy Marie. No one on the stage can touch her vocally.
Cinderella is beautifully directed by Mark Brokaw and boldly choreographed by Josh Rhodes. The “Waltz for a Ball” is breathtaking with dancers doing lifts where the women seem to float upward as though by some invisible force.
The scenic design by Ann Louizos is striking and effectual. It transitions effortlessly from scene to scene. Her design includes giant trees that give the stage depth and create an intricate forest environ. The trees give way for a country cottage, castle ballroom, town square, and a moat bridge replete with Kenneth Posner’s shimmering water effect shining up from below. William Ivey Long’s costumes are beautiful and magical. There are some astonishing costume changes as Cinderella goes from rags to ball gown right in front of the audience. I’m sorry to say that Clarks’ transition from Crazy Marie to fairy god-mother is not as slick as Cinderella’s transitions. She turns up-center and appears to fuss with something and then turns down-stage to reveal the god-mother character. This hardly felt seamless.
The pièce de résistance to this wondrous and intoxicating evening is the score by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Danny Troob’s orchestrations present these time-honored classics in a new voice that plays with the catchy melodies, tempos and meter giving them a fresh new take. I haven’t stopped humming since I left the theatre.
So congratulations to Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein on a new Broadway premiere 30+ and 50+ years, respectively, after their passing. We will have to wait and see which way the Tony Awards Administration Committee decides as to whether or not Rodgers is eligible for a Best Score Tony Award or Hammerstein is eligible to be considered along with Beane for a Best Book of a Musical nomination. One thing is sure, Cinderella is a great family musical and a great musical, period.