Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella–which originated as a light and lovely 1957 TV special–has been fleshed out with theatrics, jokes, a political subplot, puppets, extra songs, and anachronisms. The result is an unwieldy but crowd pleasing concoction that ends up being reasonably entertaining despite its jarring multiple tones.
The story of the unwanted cinder girl who gets unexpectedly hooked up with both a fairy godmother and a Prince has been given a new book by Broadway’s reigning wit Douglas Carter Beane, which moves the threads together while alternating between telling the story and snarking on it.
Some of the punchlines come off too self-aware, as if they’re the author’s comments more than the characters’, and as the arch declarations pile up, the mix of Carol Burnett Show-style spoofery with earnest storytelling doesn’t mesh.
But in Act Two, the action becomes more fluid and the piece seems more of a whole, especially whenever the leads get to be straightforward and romantic.
Laura Osnes–one of the few good things to ever come out of a reality show (Grease: You’re The One That I Want)–is a beguiling Cinderella, and Santino Fontana is endearing as the Prince who desperately wants some challenge in his life.
When they’re face to face singing “Ten Minutes Ago,” things are surprisingly affecting; no gimmicks are needed.
Victoria Clark is also very good as the crazy lady slash fairy godmother–yes, this time around she has a personality disorder–who flies around trilling some hot notes while spreading the show’s message that impossible things can happen, especially if you offer some kindness instead of ridicule. (You’ll just have to believe me on that.)
And the Prince does just that. In fact, he solves the problems of the poor–“They’re having their land taken,” he’s told by Cinderella at one of several balls–in about five seconds. And suddenly you may wonder if you’ve wandered into a campier version of Les Miz.
Also having to learn hard lessons are Harriet Harris, Marla Mindelle, and Ann Harada as the evil stepmother and stepsisters, who this time around are not all as flat-out hateful as they may seem. (In another change, Cinderella doesn’t accidentally leave her slipper…no, let me not give it away just because she does. Just keep in mind that Into The Woods is no longer the only revisionist Cinderella tale on the boards.)
The set is merely serviceable and some of the effects aren’t magical enough, like the pumpkin awkwardly deflating and being replaced by a carriage (a smoke machine might have helped). But William Ivey Long‘s costumes are divoon and when everyone’s spinning around and even the fox puppet is bopping, the giddiness of this jazzed-up distraction from panic helps obscure its labored moments and clashing tones.
By the way, the next big musical about footwear, Kinky Boots, will be following in its footsteps. Leg up!