SUNDANCE — If you’re not in your 60s (or older, like the writer of this review), you may not know that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was NOT written for the stage. Oh, no, it was written for television…in 1957! It was originally broadcast live in color on CBS on March 31, 1957, as a vehicle for Julie Andrews, who was in between productions of My Fair Lady on Broadway and in London. The special broadcast (which pre-empted The Ed Sullivan Show) attracted more than 100 million people, more viewers than any other production on television, with an estimated three-quarters of the country’s population riveted to the small screen on the night of the broadcast.
It was subsequently remade for television twice, in 1965 and 1997. The 1965 version starred Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon. The 1997 version starred Brandy Norwood in the title role, with Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother. Both remakes add songs from other Richard Rodgers musicals.
The musical has been adapted for the stage in several versions, including on London’s West End, a New York City Opera production, and various touring productions.
What Sundance Summer Theatre brings us is the 2013 adaptation with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, and it’s delightful. Cinderella is one of Richard Rogers’ most memorable, toe tapping scores, full of the tuneful “boom chucks” songs he’s known for.
Director Rob Moffat does an excellent job of staging the show, keeping it tight and entertaining. His use of the set is imaginative and creative and a great set it is! Designed by Milinda Weeks, it’s one of the best sets I’ve seen at Sundance. Moving staircases that turn into palaces, houses, bridges, terraces and, wait…there’s more! The mechanical horses that draw the golden carriage are awesome!
Costumes by Spencer Potter are well done, and when Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother’s and Cinderella’s “rags” turn into beautiful gowns—it’s magical. I wanted a “do over” so I could see it again!
I was disappointed in the choreography by Adam Ray Dyer. It’s not bad, by any means, it just doesn’t seem to fit the show. The act one choreography fit better than act two. The choreography for the opening number, “Me, Who am I?” was great and I had high hopes for the dancing. But the act two choreography was too angular and modern/interpretive, with “jagged” arms and elbows that didn’t fit the lyrical tone of the show. And I have to give a big shout out to the dancers in the show who were quite stellar.
The cast is strong, especially Lizzy Jensen, who is a perfect Ella, and Nicole York as Marie, Ella’s Fairy Godmother. Both women are outstanding in their roles. Jensen never plays Ella as the stereotypical goody two shoes (which is dramatically uninteresting). She is real, engaging, and simply lovely, with a great set of pipes. Then there’s York who is a find! Her comic timing is perfect and her singing is exceptional. She is the quintessential Fairy Godmother…slightly acerbic, wise, and kind. Dallin Suman as Topher, the handsome prince, is fine and amiable, though vocally not as strong as the others in the cast but pleasing nonetheless.
The supporting cast is great. Brendan Hanks as John-Michel, the earnest, “Perchik-like” revolutionary, is endearing. Though he pushes from time to time, he has a marvelous and clear voice. Amanda Crabb as Madame, the wicked step-mother, is appropriately unpleasant, and Emma Wadsworth and Erica Schoebinger, the ugly step-sisters, are endearing and funny, respectively. Both sing well and are first-class in their roles. I do have an issue with this adaptation of Cinderella, and that’s making one of the ugly step-sisters, well, nice. What fun is that? I miss the two sisters bickering with each other and as worthy foils for Cinderella and each other. But Sundance plays on the strengths of the script and not its weaknesses.
The only downside to the show at Sundance is the pre-show and intermission music. Pre-show music is supposed to set the tone of the show you’re about to see, not just be elevator music. During intermission, after the wonderful, charming, and lyrical first act, pop music played. It took me right out of the world I was so enjoying.
Having said that, if you can, get out of the heat and go see Cinderella at Sundance. It’s simply charming…you know, like the Prince!