Thursday, February 28, 2013

theatre review CINDERELLA, Broadway, Feb 21

It is hard to believe that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's musical Cinderella has never actually appeared on Broadway until now.  After three different tv versions of the musical and numerous regional, community and high school productions, the closest Cinderella has ever made it to Broadway has been a couple of productions at New York City Opera and the National Tour that stopped at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden.  So after first premiering on TV back in 1957 it is nice to see Cinderella finally making it to Broadway.

The interesting thing about this production of Cinderella is that it is very different from the tv versions and all of those productions that have been performed before.  While the main story is still intact, this production includes an updated book by Douglas Carter Beane as well as including songs that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for but that were cut from other musicals and movies.  This updated book provides multiple layers to almost all of the characters in the show, turning them from what were previously fairly one dimensional and almost stereotypical characters into more realistic ones.  Beane's book also includes a good amount of humor as well.

Santino Fontana and Laura Osnes
While the main focus of the story is still on the budding relationship between Cinderella and the Prince, there is now a larger focus on the other members of the fairy tale land.  Cinderella shows the Prince the injustice that is happening to those around him and introduces him to the less fortunate members of his kingdom.  In doing so, Beane has interestingly crafted a story that transforms this somewhat simple fairy tale into one of social injustice as well as the battle of cruelty verses kindness.  Several new or beefed up characters add a new dimension not only to the story but also help us see, along with the Prince, what is happening around him. 

As Cinderella, Laura Osnes once again proves her keen ability to tackle a Broadway leading role.  After turns as the female lead in both Bonnie and Clyde and in the replacement cast of the recent revival of South Pacific, Osnes has found another role that she easily makes her own.  I believe this is the role that will allow her to have a spectacular Broadway career and I wouldn't be surprised to see another Tony nomination come her way for her performance.  Her natural ease at handling the part and not come across as too saccharine or sweet is as much a tribute to her abilities as it is to Beane's updated book.

Victoria Clark
In the part of the Prince, Santino Fontana easily tackles the task at hand, portraying someone who at first seems to have no care in the world but also someone who becomes a man more in touch to the reality that is happening around him.  This is the fourth or fifth Broadway or Off Broadway show we've seen Fontana in, and like Osnes, he is clearly at the top of his game, not only in his ability to make this at first very one dimensional character into something much more than he first appears, but also to belt out some of the most romantic songs in the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog.  His performance of 'Ten Minutes Ago" and "Loneliness of Evening" are simply stunning.

Beane has beefed up the part of Cinderella's fairy god mother into a more commanding role, one which provides Victoria Clark two very different characters to play, both of which she expertly handles.  Her connection with Osnes is also lovely and her soaring ballad in act two, "There's Music in You" is a nice touch that really rounds out the part.  As Cinderella's wicked step mother, Harriet Harris once again shows why she is the perfect comic foil, venomous when necessary, adept at tackling and landing any joke she's given but also perfectly suited to deliver a song when required. 

Ann Harada, center, and the female ensemble
In smaller parts both Ann Harada and Marla Mindelle were perfect as Cinderella's two step sisters, with Harada hilarious and Mindelle sympathetic to Cinderella, which was a really nice change that Beane made to the book of the show.  Greg Hildreth as the new character Jean-Michel added a nice amount of depth to the story, and I also liked how both Hildreth and Fontana both don't either have your typical leading man looks or builds but are both playing them on Broadway.  Peter Bartlett and Phumzile Sojola portray the Prince's closet members of his staff and Bartlett is the male equivalent of Harris in his ability to get across any joke he is given.  Sojola has a soaring voice which he is able to show off several times during the show.

Direction by Mark Brokaw is perfect, with the show moving along at a fast paced but also with plenty of times that it slows down when required.  Josh Rhodes provides a nice and varied amount of choreography including some spectacular dance sequences at the ball where he also ensures that Fontana and Osnes are front and center, including several moments of Fontana lifting and twirling Osnes in tune with the ensemble.

I also really liked Beane's updated book and how he managed to tweak a few things that we all take for granted in this fairly tale especially with how Cinderella leaves behind the glass slipper.  As far as the songs that have been added to this production, "Loneliness of Evening" and "Now is the Time" were both cut from South Pacific and "There's Music in You" was written for the film Main Street to Broadway and also included in the 1997 tv version of Cinderella that starred Brandy and Whitney Houston.

Creative aspects of the show are simply amazing with truly magical costumes by William Ivey Long, including several that transform into other costumes and an inventive and creative set design by Anna Louizos that includes a multitude of trees that move and set pieces that rotate.  The lighting design by Ken Posner is extremely effective in seamlessly moving us from one locale to another as well as in perfectly portraying various times of day.   The magical moments, of which there are many, are masterly handled and result in many gasps and rounds of applause from the audience. 

I believe this show is gonna be a big hit, not only with families and young theatre goers but with those of us that appreciate a fresh and updated take on an old favorite and anyone who is thrilled by the magic that can happen in the theatre.  Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella officially opens next week on March 3rd.

Official Show Site

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade 2012 Performance:

"Ten Minutes Ago" performance on Fox News: behind the scenes:

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