It’s possible for an updated fairy tale musical to retain its original charm while appealing to modern audiences. It’s also possible to give beloved material a fresh jolt of contemporary humor without pandering or becoming too annoyingly hip.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella has in its own little corner a lovely score that’s bolstered by a feminist twist in Douglas Carter Bean’s new book, and the national tour of this recent Broadway production is equal parts fairy dust and winking humor.
First at Dallas Summer Musicals and now at Bass Hall in Fort Worth through June 28, the equity tour is appealing to princesses small and big. The 1957 original was written for TV, and it was revived again on the small screen twice more (in 1965 and 1997). The updated version that ran in New York for nearly two years was the show’s first Broadway mounting.
Costumes designed by William Ivey Long are every bit as magical as promised, with three onstage costume changes that literally elicit gasps with their how-did-they-do-that construction. (Long has put into good use his time working with illusionists Siegfried and Roy.) The Stuart Weitzman-designed “glass slippers” will have you wishing you could buy your own pair.
Considering the crux of the Cinderella fairy tale is clothing and shoes, it’s a big deal that this production exceeds sartorial expectations. Frothy, sparkling confections for the ladies of the court and comically ornate ball gowns for Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters conjure a world where anything is truly possible.
Beane, who worked wonders turning Xanadu from a cult film flop to a seriously funny musical spoof, has solved the central problem with Cinderella’s story, namely that she is a passive girl who sits and waits to be saved. Here, Cinderella (Paige Faure, who played the role on Broadway) is still given the ultimate makeover by her fairy godmother (a sassy Kecia Lewis) and still meets the prince at the ball.
But instead of leaving a glass-slipper clue, she snatches up her shoe and flees into the night. With help from her sympathetic stepsister, Gabrielle (Kaitlyn Davidson), Cinderella does all she can to get herself back to the prince.
And it’s not just love this indentured girl is seeking. Revolutionaries and firebrand characters have been added to highlight the plight of the poor, and Cinderella is just as focused on making the prince aware of his subjects’ condition as she is whispering sweet nothings.
The prince, too, actually gets a personality. Andy Huntington Jones makes the ruler a goofy young man who wants to do right by his kingdom, but he has fallen prey to his ambitious advisor (Branch Woodman), whose priorities are more about filling the coffers than serving the subjects. This character renders Cinderella’s stepmother (Beth Glover) and stepsisters (Aymee Garcia milks the delusional Charlotte) less terrifying than they could be, but they’re mainly played for laughs anyway.
There are a few curious additions (the show starts off with Prince Topher fighting a “woodland creature,” which really looks like an extra from Starship Troopers), but mainly it’s gratifying to see this fairy tale ingenue become a heroine as well as a princess.