Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Charming Cinderella

Roger and Hammerstein's beloved version gets classy treatment in the new production at the Orpheum

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
With its illustrious history, it's surprising that Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella seems to often fall in the back of the minds of musical fans. Originated on television by a then-unknown Julie Andrews in 1957 on CBS, and repeated in a much beloved 1997 ABC television broadcast (with a spectacular cast that included Brandy, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Bernadette Peters), it hasn't seen much stage time.

Thanks to Minnesota native Laura Osnes, that has all changed. Osnes revived the role on Broadway to critical acclaim two years ago, and the show is now traveling (alas, without Osnes or her successor Keke Palmer in the title role) around the country.

It's a good thing, too. This Cinderella is not the Disney cartoon most of us remember from our childhoods. There are modern, witty jokes; Cinderella is not only determined and intelligent, but political; and the special effects have been upgraded. This is particularly noted in a series of spectacular costume changes for Cinderella, in which she twirls on-stage and her costume magically becomes something else. I've seen a lot of theater, but I have no idea how they do it. The trick never gets old and is a special draw for the show.

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
The cast is solid, but can be a bit disappointing for those who are fans of the earlier televised versions. It would be nice to see a little more diversity among the cast; with such loaded political lyrics, it would certainly add a depth of subtext to the script.

That being said, the main cast has excellent voices. Paige Faure is winningly winsome as Ella (aka Cinderella), and moves with a fairy tale grace. Andy Huntington Jones has a beautiful voice as Topher the Prince, although I wish he had the dance training to match Faure; he moved a little too stiffly for such a dance-heavy show. Kaitlyn Davidson is equal parts hilarious and heartwinning as Ella's good stepsister Gabrielle. In fact, Davidson is the show's brightest comedic star; I wish we had a little more of her.

The sets are gorgeous, evoking Disney's iconic hand-painted film without being too literal. They are also surprisingly nimble, considering they include a three sided house, full forest and palace staircases. Sets and stunts are some of the main draws of this show, so make sure to take note of them.

Photo courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
It's wonderful to see this charming show brought back to life. It's not one of Rogers and Hammerstein's best, but it is a classic. With a little modern magic, this pumpkin turns into a golden carriage - and it won't change back at midnight. Make sure to stop by, especially if you have kids. It's good to show them that there is more to fairy tales than the Disney version. Cinderella runs at the Orpheum theater through September 13. Click here to get your tickets.