The new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, playing at Proctors through Sunday, is a glorious visual treat, beautifully acted, and a great deal of it is truly enchanting.
The selling point of this show is, of course, that story and that iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein score. Unashamedly, I claim it as one of my favorites — Rodgers music and Hammerstein’s lyrics are simply impossible not to love.
Hammerstein’s book to the show is another story. The script, when it first premiered in 1957, was twee and saccharine — and we loved it. When rewritten for the 1965 revival with Lesley Anne Warren, it was painfully even more so, and we still loved it. So I was thoroughly prepared to dine on the theatrical equivalent of a slice of cake, a can of Coke with some M&Ms as a chaser when I entered the theater.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through Saturday
HOW MUCH: $100-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
But the cake that was served was made with beets, the soda was celery and the candy was sugar-free carob. Tony winning playwright Douglas Carter Beane was drafted in to craft a new sticky sweet concoction for this new Broadway production, but has added a sour sting of political correctness to this fairy tale that leaves the evening tasting wrong.
Cinderella still lives in a forest with her stepmom and stepsisters. She still has furry animal friends. And she still sits in her own little corner wishing for a better life. Except now the better life she wishes for isn’t just for her — it is for all oppressed bumpkins.
Rallied into action by a social justice serf named Jean-Michel, Cinderella is now aware that she is not the only one who is maltreated and that she needs to think bigger — to create a better life for all.
She now speaks of injustice, even finding some answers in a big red book! Where are we going with this? I am still scratching my head as to why Beane decided to turn a simple fable of escaping grief and finding true love and happiness into a complicated, and less satisfying tale of social responsibility? When these new “socially aware” teachings are interspersed with the moments of the story we all look forward to — the transformation, the ball, the glass slipper — the evening becomes confusing, forced and not the Cinderella we know and love. So much so that when the first act curtain fell, a woman seated next to me gasped to her mate that she found it unacceptable that Cinderella didn’t leave her glass slipper on the steps of the palace when she fled the ball. I wanted to tell her “Don’t worry. She’s now environmentally conscientious and doesn’t litter. She’s taking it to the recycling center.”
Despite her new found mission, Kaitlyn Davidson offers a heartfelt Cinderella, waltzing through the role with a charm and lightness that appears everything that it should be and more. A talented dancer with a beautiful voice, she makes the perfect activist princess.
The handsome Sean Seymour is a very nice Prince, his warm tenor pleasing and earnest. Liz McCartney is a soaringly supportive Fairy Godmother, both in song and spirit. As the angular and arch evil stepmom, Blair Ross is giddy fun. Kimberly Fauré slyly channels a young, less manic, Carol Burnett as Gabrielle, the nice stepsister while Amyee Garcia as Charlotte, the un-nice one, pulls out all the vaudeville and stops the show with an all too brisk “Stepsister’s Lament” at the top of act two.
The scenic design by Anna Louizos is stunning and artfully accented by lighting wizard Kenneth Posner. William Ivey Long’s Tony Award winning costumes are beautiful without distracting, except when they should. And the designer’s magical talent completely wows when Cinderella’s transformation of wardrobe from frump to finery happens right before your eyes — really fun! The dance numbers, staged by choreographer Josh Rhodes are energetic, appropriate for the tale and extremely well executed by the corps. The Rodgers’ score still sounds great. Danny Troob’s new orchestrations are fine, but I miss Robert Russell Bennett’s sweepingly beautiful originals, especially in the dance numbers.
Despite this production’s script woes, the show is a winner — great cast, great score and fantastic design. So, don a tiara (there were quite a few audience members wearing them) and go to the ball. But recycle your program. Cinderella will be watching.
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