A fresh new book by Douglas Carter Beane breathes exciting new life into a spectacular new production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, now delighting audiences of all ages (and I do mean of all ages) at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts.
From its TV debut back in 1957 with a 21-year-old Julie Andrews as its star to subsequent TV revivals to a popular stage adaptation, Cinderella’s tale as old as time (set to the glorious songs of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II) has kept parents and children coming back for more.
Regardless of how many times you’ve seen Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella on screen or stage, you will feel you are discovering it for the first time at the Segerstrom Center thanks to Beane’s Tony-nominated reinvention of Hammerstein’s original book, one that adds heart, depth, and a whole lot of hilarity to what was already a proven crowd favorite, with director Mark Brokaw insuring that each and every puzzle piece fits together to fairytale perfection.
This time round, Cinderella (Kaitlyn Davidson) is a budding social activist with a rabble-rousing best buddy named Jean-Michel (David Andino) who’s got his heart set on Cinderella’s not-so-wicked stepsister Gabrielle (Kimberly Fauré).
Stepmother Madame (Blair Ross) and stepsister Charlotte, accent on “lotte” (Lulu Picart), are the meanies we’ve come to love, but Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother is now town loony “Crazy” Marie (Liz McCartney) with a secret or two hidden under her cape.
As for Cinderella’s Prince Charming, redubbed Prince Topher (Andy Huntington Jones), the handsome young bachelor is now an orphan under the tutelage of the self-serving Sebastian (Blake Hammon), who’d rather his charge remain the frustrated slayer of dragons and giants than the socialist democrat he could become if he only met the right girl.
Not only do Beane’s revisions make this a 21-Century fairytale that adults can savor every bit as much as the tots, the musical’s new book has the kind of whoosh-past-the-kids humor that helped Disney revolutionize the animated film genre with The Little Mermaid and Beauty And The Beast.
And Cinderella à la Beane gives audiences not just one ball but two, plus a pair of equally inspired surprise twists when the clock strikes midnight.
Of course there wouldn’t be a Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella without the glorious melodies and clever lyrics that turned the duo into overnight Broadway legends with Oklahoma! Songs don’t get any more exquisite than “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible,” “Ten Minutes Ago,” “A Lovely Night,” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”, the latter given added emotional punch because this time round, Beane has given Cinderella and Topher a depth they’ve heretofore lacked.
Add to these the delightful “The Prince Is Giving A Ball” and “Stepsister’s Lament” and a few “new” songs, forgotten gems from the R+H oeuvre (like “Now Is The Time,” whose melody will be recognized by South Pacific aficionados) and you’ve got a score to rival R & H’s best.
Even if you’ve seen Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella regionally, you’ve never seen it with Anna Louizos’s spectacular sets or William Ivey Long’s sensational Tony-winning costumes, a few of them harboring magic tricks that must be seen to be believed.
You’ve also never seen Cinderella with Josh Rhodes’ simply stunning choreography performed by an ensemble of gifted triple-threats* appearing as Knights, Townspeople, Lords and Ladies of the Court, and Peasants, and by the production’s two stars, who can waltz and gavotte with the best of them.
Davidson graduates from Gabrielle (the role she played last year in Los Angeles) to Cinderella and she could not be a more enchanting leading lady, smart, spunky, instantly endearing, and with a soprano to give a certain Julie a run for her money.
The Broadway stardom-bound Jones continues as Prince Topher, combining charm, intelligence, passion, blond-next-door good looks, and a tenor to match Davidson’s pipes every step of the way.
Taking over the role of Gabrielle is the absolutely wonderful Fauré opposite a perfectly cast Andino as her own personal bear cub of a beau.
Ross and McCartney bring decades of Broadway credits and singing/acting chops to Madame and Marie, with delightful support from Hammond, Chauncey Parker (Lord Pinkleton), and a scene-stealing Picart as the less-than-lovely but more-than-hilarious Charlotte.
Kenneth Posner’s vibrant lighting design and Nevin Steinberg’s crystal-clear sound design are precisely the caliber you’d expect from a Grade-A Broadway National Tour as is Paul Huntley’s hair and wig design, with special snaps for the stepsisters’ outrageous does.
Musical director Valerie Gilbert conducts a great big pit orchestra composed of touring and local musicians, who bring Danny Troob’s lush orchestrations to gorgeous life, with additional credit due David Chase’s music adaptation, supervision, and arrangements.
Seth F. Barker is production stage manager. Jose Sullivan is company manager. Lee Wilkins is associate choreographer.
I’ve enjoyed Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella before, but never nearly as much as this brilliantly reconceived revival, in town for an all too brief run down Costa Mesa way. It makes for “A Lovely Night” of musical theater indeed.
*Chip Abbott, Summer Broyhill, Michael Callahan, Cody Davis, Rachel Fairbanks, Danielle Jordan, Lauren Lukacek, Adam Rogers, Arianna Rosario, Sean Seymour, Lauren Sprague, Paige Williams, Thad Turner Wilson, and John Yi. Audrey Cardwell, Laura Irion, Eric Anthony Johnson, and Ben Lanham are swings.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
April 19, 2106
Photos: Carol Rosegg