Review: ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella’

There's always a considerable comfort factor for an audience bathed in a sugary score with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The new Paper Mill Playhouse production of "Cinderella" defines that comfort zone despite its garish design and some blandly mechanical performances that fail to warm the heart or stir the imagination.

There’s always a considerable comfort factor for an audience bathed in a sugary score with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The new Paper Mill Playhouse production of “Cinderella” defines that comfort zone despite its garish design and some blandly mechanical performances that fail to warm the heart or stir the imagination.

The musical began as a 1957 B&W telecast with an all-star cast headed by Julie Andrews; it was remade in color nearly a decade later with Lesley Ann Warren in the title role. Even in black-and-white, the timeless fairy tale boasted a silvery distinction. But, as designed by James Youmans with a heavy-handed accent of glaring orange and hot pink patterns, it appears to have lost its storybook charm. Equally loud are Pamela Scofield’s comicbook costumes. The beloved fairy tale here sacrifices the beauty, luster and grace that were perhaps best defined in the Walt Disney film.

Angela Gaylor is winsome enough as the peasant girl transformed into a princess, but she lacks a true sparkle and warmth that would have made her more endearing. Repeating the role he acted opposite Brandy in a 1997 TV movie, Paolo Montalban is a tad wooden as the amorous prince, but in the ballroom scene in which he’s called upon to dance with the available village maidens, he exhibits droll appeal. Both Gaylor and Montalban sing with appealing reserve.

The obnoxious siblings, as acted by an imposing Janelle Anne Robinson and a whiny pint-sized Jen Cody, are certainly spunky enough, and the extravagant monster of the stepmother is played by Nora Mae Lyng with lethal comic abandon.

The tuner’s real distinction is its sweet-savory score, enriched by “Ten Minutes Ago,” “In My Own Little Corner,” “A Lovely Night” and the lilting “Gavotte.” Productions of “Cinderella” have often been enhanced with the addition of more familiar songs from the R&H canon. This time around the most notable addition is “The Sweetest Sounds,” a distinctive remnant from 1962 tuner “No Strings,” with both music and lyrics by Rodgers. Also nestled into the score is “Loneliness of Evening,” a song that was cut from “South Pacific.”

Larry Keith and Joy Franz miss the fanciful humor of a bumbling king and his queen, but offer a sweetly reflective duet on “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” a notable discard from “Oklahoma” that also was subsequently dropped from two films that starred Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland. Perhaps the plaintive tune has finally found its true home.

Suzzanne Douglas appears as a pushy Fairy Godmother and sings the show’s benedictory blessing, “There’s Music in You,” an obscure song that has long disappeared as has the film in which it was introduced by Mary Martin, “Main Street to Broadway.”

Eye-popping special effects include the transformation of a pumpkin into a regal carriage, complete with a dazzling pyrotechnical display, and the amusing stick puppets of a cat, a dove and four little mice that bring a nice response from youngsters in the audience.

Gabriel Barre has staged the show as a preholiday treat that’s likely to appeal to families — in spite of the fact that this glass slipper doesn’t quite fit the foot.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella

Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, N.J.; 1,200 seats; $68 top

Production

A Paper Mill Playhouse presentation of a musical in two acts music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Adapted for the stage by Tom Briggs from the teleplay by Robert L. Freedman. Directed by Gabriel Barre. Musical director, Tom Helm. Choreography, Jennifer Paulson Lee.

Creative

Set, James Youmans; costumes, Pamela Scofield; lighting, Tom Hinter; sound, Randy Hansen; production stage manager, Gail P. Luna. Opened, reviewed Oct. 23, 2005. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast

Fairy Godmother - Suzzanne Douglas Cinderella - Angela Gaylor Stepmother - Nora Mae Lyng Grace - Janelle Anne Robinson Joy - Jen Cody Prince Christopher - Paolo Montalban Lionel - Stanley Wayne Mathis Queen Constantina - Joy Franz King Maximillian - Larry Keith Charles - James Bulleri Four White Mice, horses - Rod DeStefano, Jason Robinson, Dante Russo, Jason Weston Dove, Footman - David Tankersley
With: Lauren Brim, Jacqueline Colmer, Daisy Hobbs, Paul Jackel, Karina Michaels, Skie Ocasio, Diane Veronica Phelan, Leah Sprecher, Tina Stafford, Erin Webley.
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