With this new national touring production of “Cinderella,” director Gabriel Barre and writer Tom Briggs prove it’s possible to turn a charming television musical into a magical stage production.
There have been various stage productions of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical that originated as a 1957 TV special starring Julie Andrews, but this is the first full-scale Broadway-style production with a book clearly designed for the stage.
Briggs has taken elements from the original story by Oscar Hammerstein II, the teleplay by Robert. Freedman and the 1997 TV remake with Brandy and Whitney Houston to create a wholly new musical that offers enough cute mice puppets, special effects and witty humor to dazzle the youngest audiences and also satisfy the most jaded adults.
Like the 1997 Disney TV film, this production brings Cinderella and Prince Christopher together in the opening scene. They each wander around the town square singing “The Sweetest Sounds” (interpolated from Richard Rodgers’ “No Strings”) and dreaming about meeting the special someone they know is waiting for them.
They don’t meet again until the Prince’s ball in the second act, after Cinderella has been transformed into a beautiful princess by her Fairy Godmother, played in a cynically playful style by the vibrant Eartha Kitt.
Kitt is one of the show’s wise casting moves. With her distinctive singing and speaking voice, some might expect her to play the wicked Stepmother, but she’s perfectly right for the atypical Fairy Godmother she’s playing. Rejecting the notion of the magic wand and tutu costume, she tells a surprised Cinderella, “Been there. Done that.”
Barre’s other surprise casting is Everett Quinton, the Ridiculous Theater Co. veteran, who is a marvel as the Stepmother. He projects a masculine femininity that adds to the character’s haughty tone and nasty attitude toward anything that might get in the way of getting her daughters married.
In the title role, pop singer and Broadway performer Deborah Gibson has some nice moments and a winsome spirit, but at the show’s first public performance, vocal limitations impaired the amount of grace and elegance she was able to inject into the role.
Musical supervisor and arranger Andrew Lippa has, however, created some contemporary tempos for Gibson’s songs, particularly the once-lilting “A Lovely Night,” that are better suited to her singing style than the more traditional ballads “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”
Whatever the style of the music, it seems just right for Paolo Montalban, who also played the Prince in the recent telefilm. His voice is strong and engaging and he makes you feel his despair as his parents push him to find a bride.
Set designer James Youmans creates a world that is just a bit off-kilter, a cartoonish fairy tale with modern flourishes. The cockeyed view extends to Pamela Scofield’s costumes.
Her sometimes garish mix of yellows, pinks, orange and greens in the end seems just right, particularly for the stepmother and her daughters and the comical king and queen played by Ken Prymus and Leslie Becker. Alexandra Kolb and NaTasha Yvette Williams have broad fun with their roles and the show’s funniest song, “Stepsisters Lament.”
At the moment, the transformation of a plain yellow pumpkin into a sculptured golden carriage, achieved through swirling lights, smoke and lighting bolts, takes a bit longer than necessary. After more performances and tightening, it should make for an impressive display that matches the spirit of the rest of the show.