By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Cinderella has always been the poster girl for the poor but upwardly mobile. Bide your time, miserable lackey: your dreams can come true.
Karma’s on your side, long-term, if you’re oppressed by snarly step-relatives and a dreary job. You too can go to the ball and find true love. Providing of course your rustic proletariat-wear gets a spectacular makeover, including proper footwear, you can rocket clean past the scrabbling peasantry and the clamouring bourgeoisie, straight to the top.
Rescue by handsome prince, a tale-as-old-as-time (oops, wrong story), courtesy of the 17th century Charles Perrault classic, is an open invitation, not to say a red flag, to a contemporary makeover. Which is the backstory of this agreeably wiseacre 2013 update of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the only musical the pair ever wrote for television. The CBS broadcast, starring Julie Andrews, planted visions of sugarplums in the heads of some 107 million viewers on a Sunday night in 1957.
This Broadway touring production waltzes its way across the Jube stage in full fairy tale regalia, with dreamy dappled lighting, lovely singing, romantic choreography, charming performances. And most of all, magical onstage costume transformations (designer: William Ivey Long) to top any transformations provided by the story, or its quip-enhanced new book by playwright Douglas Carter Beane.
And, although Cinderella was always a story where shoe size figured prominently, you could argue that there’s something a bit lopsided when you leave a show humming the gowns. Say what you will, though, those moments of bewitching shimmer are very welcome, and applause-worthy in their own right. (note to fashion bloggers: this goes way beyond mere accessorizing).
Anyhow, R&H’s generically lush and dreamy score is present and accounted for, enhanced for the occasion with songs from elsewhere in the canon. But now, there’s the fun of seeing it juxtaposed to jokey modern throwaways, fun that occasionally presses its luck and feels like weight instead of buoyancy.
Cinderella, the sad-eyed orphan stuck in a dead-end job, has a subtext now beyond landing the Prince Charming of her dreams and bonding with woodland creatures (a genuinely amusing Disney joke, with fur). She’s progressive; she feels the plight of her fellow plebs keenly, and wants to do something about it.
Tatyana Lubov, who has a silky singing voice, is sweet and plucky without being saccharine on the one hand, or the l’il Orphan Annie of the medieval period on the other.
Fellow orphan Prince Topher, in Hayden Stanes’s delightful performance, is an adorably clueless, self-effacing naif. He’s a university grad (phys-ed major perhaps?) who’s a dab hand at slaying monsters and giants but doesn’t have the foggiest idea about conditions in the kingdom. He has a vague idea that “I should be doing something more important with my life,” as he sings Me, Who Am I? originally from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Me and Juliet. Maybe he should have a go at the over-amplified sound that mars Act I in particular; it’s an equal-opportunity obliterator of lyrics. Just a thought.
Prince Topher has hitherto been putty in the hands of a manipulative, power-hungry advisor (Ryan M. Hunt, in droll-villain-foiled-again mode). On an expedition into the woods — “you there! impoverished person” — he’s all for charity. “You’re going to give her some of your things, so she won’t have a revolution and take all of your things.”
The Ugly Stepsisters have had an update, too. Charlotte, played by Joanna Johnson in a performance (and wig) you could genuinely call riotous, is a sulky, malicious little upstager, with grievances. In all of the above she’s trained by her imperious mama (Sarah Primmer), an expert in the joint arts of ridicule, outrage, and minute adjustments in the class system. “We’re teetering precariously on the edge of the upper middle-class and the lower upper-class!” she snaps, by way of pep talk to her daughters.
Tall, gawky nerd sister Gabrielle (Mimi Robinson), curiously, has a secret soft-spot for the poor, and a crush on the local radical Jean-Michel (Chris Woods). “He’s a firebrand!” she says admiringly.
It’s a slightly awkward retro-fit: puckish asides, ultra-romantic music, politically correct activist theme. But the show seems to know it, at crucial moments, and this is part of the fun. But the activist save-the-world thread puts a little too much weight in Cinderella’s carry-on. C’mon, the Fairy Godmother is all about dreaming and being whatever you want to be and finding a dream date; she doesn’t really get into saving the world through political reform.
The Prince’s identity crisis turns out to be all about the need for democracy, a prime minister, and consultation with the peasantry about land rights and inequitable distribution of wealth. The charm of the performers, even a particularly ravishing Fairy Godmother from Leslie Jackson, won’t quite get you there, in truth.
Concentrate instead on the felicities, both musical and visual, of a lavish touring production. And dream of romance.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Broadway Across Canada
Directed by: Mark Brokaw (originally) and Gina Rattan (tour
Starring: Tatyana Lubov, Hayden Stanes, Ryan M. Hunt, Leslie Jackson, Sarah Primmer, Mimi Robinson, Joanna Johnson, Chris Woods
Where: Jubilee Auditorium
Running: through Sunday