By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight. ca
“Impossible, for a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage./ Impossible, for a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage….”
Impossible? Well, hang on … actually, there is a precedent.
And you’ll see it set forth in the 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that alights on the Jube stage Tuesday with a full complement of ball gowns — and has to end before midnight (or your coach gets towed and your tiara gets repossessed).
I don’t know what your own Fairy Godmother has been warning you about unrealistic romantic expectations. But in this 2013 Broadway revival of Cinderella — its Broadway debut, after 60 years, incidentally — the mopey girl with the bad-ass step-relatives you remember from the old French fairy tale, doesn’t just want a magical makeover (and glass party pumps and, of course, a Prince). “She wants to make a difference in the world,” as Cinderella tour director Gina Rattan puts it. She’s got a progressive social activist streak; she doesn’t like what’s happening to the peasants, and wants to be a force for good in the kingdom.
Rewritten by American playwright Douglas Carter Beane (The Nance, The Little Dog Laughed), the new book for Cinderella is the latest update in the many-update history of the only musical Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote for television. The original 1957 broadcast starring Julie Andrews, fresh from her Eliza Doolittle triumph, attracted a whopping 107 million viewers.
As Rattan explains, that 90-minute CBS version, which dislodged Ed Sullivan from his theatre and his time-honoured Sunday 8 p.m. slot for the night, has been amplified into the classic Broadway configuration: two acts with intermission. “There’s more singing,” she says of a score that’s been ramped up with songs from the R & H canon originally written for other musicals (Now Is The Time, for example, was cut from South Pacific). In that way, it’s like Crazy For You, a ’90s musical that expanded the ‘30s original with a new Ken Ludwig book and songs from the Gershwin hit parade.
For this Cinderella, characters have been added (a machiavellian court adviser to the naive prince for one) and cut (the King and Queen). Not only that, but “the characters have motivations and back stories,” says Rattan, of a book that gives separate identities to the Ugly Stepsisters, who have hitherto mostly arrived onstage as comic grotesques. “Here, it’s less about their being ugly,” more about their behaviour, Rattan explains.
Some things, however, never change. “The Stepmother is still the antagonist, making Cinderella’s life miserable.”
“So, yes, Cinderella has been updated as to who the characters are, and how their stories play out…. But it still delivers on the magic of the fairy tale. It’s still about the right people finding each other,” says Rattan.
“But Cinderella and the Prince aren’t just two pretty people who inevitably end up together. Cinderella wants to make a difference.” And Prince Topher, a naive young leader who’s being led astray by bad advice, needs guidance to get his regime on track and do the right thing vis-à-vis the people.
The biggest Wow in the Broadway production, the one that landed it a Tony amongst multiple nominations, was the array of ballgowns, designed for magical transformations by William Ivey Long. “All the original Broadway costumes are on the road,” says Rattan, a veteran musical theatre director, and experienced in live TV adaptations (NBC’s live Peter Pan and The Sound of Music on NBC). She was in Red Earth, Colorado. directing Evita the morning we talked on the phone.
The touring sets, Rattan says, are the Broadway originals, too, reworked to crack apart for travelling. So is the lighting. “You’ll feel like you’re watching the Broadway production.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Broadway Across Canada
Where: Jubilee Auditorium
Running: April 18 to 23
Tickets: Ticketmaster (1-855-985-5500, ticketmaster.ca)