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‘Cinderella’ evokes old H’w’d magic

GOOD MORNING: There’s still plenty of magic in Hollywood, and nowhere is that more impressive than on Stages 22 and 26 at Sony. That’s where the $12 million, two-hour ABC Rodgers & Hammerstein “Cinderella” is being filmed for “The Wonderful World of Disney,” to air in November sweeps. The Prince’s Palace set is built on the same stage where “The Wizard of Oz’s” Yellow Brick Road once stood; in homage, the courtyard bricks of “Cinderella” are tinged yellow. … Impressed by this movie magic were Mary Rodgers and James Hammerstein, who were visiting the set as I arrived Thursday morning at Sony. They had given their blessing and go-ahead to the “rainbow” cast put together by executive producers Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Debra Chase and Whitney Houston. “Houston is involved in every decision,” Zadan and Meron told me. “She approves all elements.” As for the elements of a mixed-race cast, Whitney — who grew up, as we all did, with the classic, Caucasian “Cinderella” casting — told me, “It’s a good time to do something like this. It’s happening. After all, we all love ‘Cinderella.’ It was a joint decision to do it this way.” In this version, Cinderella is played by Brandy (“Moesha”); the Prince by handsome (Filipino) Paolo Montalban; the Fairy Godmother, Whitney Houston; Queen Constantina, Whoopi Goldberg; the stepmother, Bernadette Peters; the stepsisters, Natalie Desselle and Veanne Cox; and Jason Alexander as the Prince’s steward. They are directed by Robert Iscove in the contemporized (somewhat) script by Robert Freedman, produced by Mike Moder, in colorful costumes by Ellen Mirojnick and on Randy Ser’s fairytale sets — one of which may make its way to Disneyland. Michael Eisner will introduce the vidpic when it airs on ABC. He, Joe Roth and Charles Hirschhorn were responsible for the go-ahead of the project. And, Zadan and Meron remind, “We were told that if Whitney didn’t do it, no one would have come aboard.” As I arrived on the set, Brandy was about to get the marriage proposal from the Prince, who discovered it was her foot that fit the slipper. But Brandy (18) told me her foot would never have fit the tiny slipper: “I’m too tall,” she laughed, “But my feet are pretty, anyhow.”

WITH THE MANY SUCCESSFUL Rodgers & Hammerstein revivals, I asked Mary Rodgers what would be the next R&H to return to B’way. Maybe “The Sound of Music,” she said, adding that “Oklahoma!” is being readied for England’s boards next season. She and Hammerstein said this “Cinderella,” despite its rainbow cast and contemporary music beat (with bongos), is being “true to the original.” (The Julie Andrews starrer, at a cost of $375,000, aired March 31, 1957, and was viewed by 107 million. CBS’s 1965 redo starred Lesley Ann Warren.) Three musical numbers are added this round, including “Falling in Love With Love” which was written by Rodgers with Lorenz Hart, and which will be sung humorously by Bernadette Peters. Also “The Sweetest Sounds,” which Rodgers wrote by himself for “No Strings,” after Oscar H. died. (It was the only musical he wrote by himself, Mary added.) The third song, not in the original (or the 1965 remake) is “There’s Music in You,” which Whitney will sing. It’s from the 1953 feature “Main Street To B’way,” in which R&H also appeared. … Mary Rodgers is particularly proud of the music being written today by son Adam Guettel, who has the CD “Floyd Collins” (Nonesuch) now on the stalls. “I guess it’s a genes conduit,” she smiled. James Hammerstein says he’ll be busy producing through the year 2000 thanks to prolific writer Joe DiPietro, whose “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” was produced by Hammerstein. … Jason Alexander admits he cannot go back to B’way because the legit hours are not conducive to being with children and raising a family. Meanwhile he returns to L.A. boards in “Promises, Promises” again at UCLA’s Freud Hall, Aug. 14. Alexander hopes “Cinderella’s” producers Zadan and Meron will do more TV musicals — with him. He suggested “City of Angels.” Jason just directed a seg of AMC’s “Remember WENN” in N.Y. As for the future of “Seinfeld” after this year, he says it all depends on how well it does and how much fun they continue to have (under their new pact$). … Meanwhile Disney has promised “Cinderella’s” producers Zadan and Meron more TV musicals (they also did “Gypsy”) and they’re talking possible projects with Bette Midler, well as with Barbra Streisand and Glenn Close — with whom they did the very serious “Serving In Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story.” Whitney Houston’s talking with Danny DeVito and Jersey Films to play a detective in the feature version of “Get Christie Love.” About the Dorothy Dandridge biopic, Houston thinks it should be done now; she’d not star, but produce. … Lest we forget, there will be “Cinderella” special effects magic: pumpkins turning into coaches, mice into coachmen, etc. It will be created by Digital Magic. … And talking about special effects, on the stage next to “Cinderella”‘ at Sony: Madison Square Garden had just been eaten by “Godzilla.”