This spring seems to the be the season of power princesses. Well, one in particular - Cinderella. I haven't seen the Disney film, but I did attend the opening night performance of the new production of Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella happening at Center Theater Group right now at the Ahmanson Theatre. I went with pretty straight-forward expectations, knowing only that it would be filled with magic and all the original songs from the TV musical (which are some of my all time favorite musical theater compositions ever!) But what transpired on the stage not only exceeded my expectations, but left me feeling simply delighted! Also Cinderella herself, played by Paige Faure, is nothing short of sublime - she totally carries this epic character with grace and humility.
This new production adds scenes, songs, and, most notably, motivation for the young would-be princess to not only fall in love, but also make a difference in her community. She's more activist than victim (even though the evil step-mother, played winningly by Fran Drescher, is one of the most unreasonably harshest step-mothers ever.) Cinderella goes to the ball not just to meet the prince, but in the hopes that she can make a plight for the poor. And I have to say, I never thought of Cinderella as a 2-dimensional, archaic character, until I saw this new version, which makes the old Ella look somewhat like a selfish cry-baby.
What's more, this version percolates on a theme of kindness - A quality that perhaps is often overlooked in our social media saturated and comment condemned society - Making it even more relevant for today's audience. It's kindness to a poor beggar woman that earns Cinderella a Fairy God-Mother (in a somewhat New Testament turn, the beggar woman transforms into the Fairy God-Mother.) And it's kindness that first draws attention from the prince.
Perhaps the most exciting and squeal-inducing moments however, are the incredibly seamless and amazingly creative costume changes, which happen on stage and before your very eyes. I've never seen the like, and likewise, I've never heard such applause for a costume change. But this production and costume designer William Ivey certainly deserved it. Cinderella goes from rags to ball gown and back again not once, but twice. And the whole transformation takes place center stage in full bright lights... Quite an accomplishment!
I first saw the Leslie Ann Warren version when I was probably about 7 years old. I remember distinctly that my Aunt Christy was babysitting me at the time and they were showing it on the Disney Channel. Aunt Christy assured me that this was a show she knew I would enjoy and she was right on target. I mean honestly, who doesn't enjoy a good romantic musical chock-full of some of Richard Rodgers best waltzes?
Speaking of waltzes, I guess I should talk choreography; this time concocted by broadway choreographic newbie Josh Rhodes. I enjoyed how this new version seemed to be more "dance-y" than previous attempts. While there were moments of innovation, there were also moments that lacked polish and I suppose those damn beautiful dresses are always going to make lifts and partnering hard. But perhaps that's spoken like a sheer ballet snob! Overall, it fit the tone and mood of the piece, was easy to digest, fun, and it kept the show moving which was a nice change.
As much as I adore the old version (and believe me I do!) this new rendition brings the score and the story to a whole new generation of potential theater-goers, which is a feat in itself. The production runs through April 26th here in LA, so there's still plenty of time to enjoy this newly refitted jewel in the musical theater crown! Click here for more info and tickets!