What’s the difference between Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” the musical they wrote for television in 1957, and “Rodgers + Hammerstein”s Cinderella,” the 2013 stage show that has come to town on the PNC Broadway Lights tour?
Five added songs R&H cut from other shows, though only one comes from their top drawer.
Half an hour of extra dialogue, dancing and orchestral interludes, not counting the intermission.
No king and queen, as they’re dead in this version. The prince already runs the kingdom, abetted by a newly invented, self-serving adviser. The ruler has become more of a real character, a self-doubting guy whose vaguely good intentions take shape under Cinderella’s urgings toward progress.
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An added subplot about a political firebrand who believes the monarchy ought to be counterbalanced by an elected prime minister, and who falls in love with one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. (She now has a cranky stepsister and a friendly one.)
Special effects that pull off mystifying transformations, including two rags-to-ball-gown changes for the title character that will have you blinking in baffled delight.
The producers believed the TV version (which more closely followed the fairy tale by Charles Perrault) would be too short, small and simple for a Broadway extravaganza. That’s debatable: “The Nutcracker” lasts exactly as long as that 90-minute broadcast, and ballet fans have been satisfied for decades. But when the top ticket costs $109.50 plus handling fees, audiences may demand to be blown away.
This production will satisfy their need for beauty, especially in the Tony-winning gowns designed by Rock Hill native William Ivey Long. And though the chorus remains small, and the orchestra has been reduced from 20 musicians on Broadway to about a dozen for the tour, the players in the pit make a rich sound, and the dancers fill the stage.
Playwright Douglas Carter Beane revamped Hammerstein’s book without inserting timely references that can date a show. Nobody’s really mean: “Bad” characters are petulant or greedy, but Cinderella’s ultimate forgiveness reforms them quickly.
The inserted songs, mostly dropped from “South Pacific,” “Me and Juliet” or “The King and I,” neither help nor hurt much. “There’s Music in You,” sung to Cinderella by her fairy godmother, is the only find; “Loneliness of Evening,” first meant for long-separated lovers in “South Pacific,” makes little sense when sung by a prince who has been apart from Cinderella for three days.
Rodgers and Hammerstein put unhappy people in all their musicals to lend verisimilitude and balance the main couple: Think of Jud in “Oklahoma!” or Tuptim in “The King and I,” not to mention Cinderella’s stepsisters. This version drops the sadness Hammerstein wanted, but that’s less troubling in a fairy story.
Small parts shine, from Aymee Garcia and Ashley Park’s stepsisters (one stormy, one shy) to the robust, big-voiced fairy godmother of Kecia Lewis. David Andino’s bumbling Jean-Michel adds comedy and warm sentiments toward the poor, whose land the prince’s adviser has confiscated.
Remarkably, the two leads look spontaneous after weeks on the road. Paige Faure appears to come up with the dream visions of “In My Own Little Corner” on the spot; every gesture has a sweetness that never goes over the top, and she’s well-matched with Andy Jones’ earnest, huggable Prince.
He, too, sings with charm and freshness, and they seem to discover each other scene by scene. Without that quality, however much glitz might be applied, neither Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” nor any other could hold the stage.