Last night, both tiny and tall princesses waited patiently in the Durham Performing Arts Center’s lobby to file in for the much-anticipated show of the holiday season: Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and they were not disappointed. Indeed, they were dazzled by the costumes and sets, delighted by the well-loved characters, charmed by the magical moments, and entertained by both villains and heroines. This Cinderella is the perfect show for this time of year when the magic of Christmas is over but the holiday season has not quite come to an end. Part of DPAC‘s Encore Broadway Series, this touring version of the 2013 Broadway musical will remain in Durham through New Year’s Day.
The story is one with which everyone is familiar: scullery maid and rejected stepdaughter with a golden heart wants only one thing: the love that her parents knew. Only three things stand in her way: her stepmother and her two stepsisters. The fantasy is built on reaching that happiness without hurting others along the way.
The book for this version of the classic fairy tale was penned by Douglas Carter Beane, a writer and lyricist known for his screenplay of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. Beane updates the familiar story and and some modern touches, which might or might not work for some audience members, depending on their perspective. Today’s Cinderella is concerned about the kingdom and the people in it, bringing the plight of her fellow citizens to the Prince’s attention.
Beane’s Cinderella is a feisty woman who’s determined to rise above her situation; and with the help of the most powerful woman in the story (her Fairy Godmother), she does. However, that only means that she fits the shoe/role that the Prince has encased her in. To make Cinderella anything but that fairy-tale princess would destroy the story, but the changes to the original tale are sometimes a bit jarring.
The play opens with a scene designed to draw the Prince (played during Friday night’s performance by Johnny Link) as a courageous figure, brave enough to kill a giant bug (I don’t remember any bugs in the original story — one thinks a dragon might be more appropriate for this tale). While the prince celebrates with his dancing pages and knights, as well as his trusted advisors, Sebastian (Ryan M. Hunt) and Lord Pinkleton (Vincent B. Davis), the audience settles in for an evening of magical moving forests and pumpkins that turn into gold coaches.
Johnny Link’s voice is weak in the first scenes, and it appears that the mic is not picking up the nuances of his voice. The prince’s voice should fill the theater, and Link’s did not. Because he’s the understudy for the role, a few of the other mishaps during the evening (some dancing missteps and a lack of real chemistry with his leading lady) can be explained; but should he have the chance to take over the lead again, he should put more power into his solos.
Cinderella, played winningly by Tatyana Lubov, is an active member of the community protected by Prince Topher. Like everyone else in the township, she appreciates his bravery and is excited by the invitation to a ball at the palace. This new, community-responsible, and compassionate heroine is a slight twist on the original character; but Lubov doesn’t play it over the top and maintains the sweet innocence that we have come to expect from “Ella.” Lubov is from a musical family, and her voice is a sweet soprano like that that Julie Andrews brought to the television production of the original Rodgers and Hammerstein musical back in 1957, a show that literally cleared the streets of New York City the night that it aired. Again, Lubov could have used a bit more volume on the mic, a problem which seems to have cleared up in the second act.
But this show is stolen by the secondary characters. Every time Marie/Fairy Godmother (Leslie Jackson), Pinkleton (Davis), or Cinderella’s stepsister Charlotte (Joanna Johnson) are on stage, their voices boom; and their acting amuses and delights both young and old. Jackson’s Marie is a wise woman, someone with whom today’s woman can identify. Though she hides under the rags of a crazy old lady, inside she’s a powerful, magical woman who’s in charge of all the behind-the-scenes action involved in getting the two lovebirds together. Her voice is rich and sonorous, almost operatic in its range; and when Jackson sings, the sound fills the cavernous DPAC.
Joanna Johnson, on the other hand, might not have an operatic voice (though it’s a good one), but her comedic skills in “Stepsister’s Lament” are worthy of this role and many others. Vincent Davis has both the voice and comedic chops. When he is in the scene determining whether any of the local girls can fit into the glass slipper, his simple statement: “Not a fit,” is enough to send the little girls in the DPAC audience into titters; and when he sings “The Prince Is Giving a Ball,” his deep bass voice commands the number.
Sarah L. Primmer’s portrayal of Cinderella’s stepmother Madame is less evil than the original stepmother, yet she still is conniving and wants only the best for her daughters. Surprisingly, she’s almost understandable. Instead of being the kind of stepmother that most stepkids love to hate, she’s the single mother valiantly trying to raise her children alone and seeing only one way out — one of them needs to marry into money. She’s a strong woman, and Primmer’s command of the stage (and those fabulous costumes!) speaks of a professionalism that will take her far in the theater world.
There are additional characters in this version of Cinderella that did not exist in the original, such as Jean-Michel, the revolutionary who is trying to inform the Prince of the hunger that persists throughout his kingdom. Chris Woods is believable as the lovable rabble rouser who falls in love with Cinderella’s mousy stepsister Gabrielle, played by Mimi Robinson, a tall drink of water who becomes a lovable foil to Woods’ anxious Jean-Michel. This added subplot weaves into the original, often surprising those familiar with the tale and raising more questions than answering them.
Though the acting, singing, dancing, stage sets, and lighting are all magical and appropriate to the Cinderella fantasy, the discussions after the performance circled around the attempt to bring this tale into contemporary times with political innuendoes and women who are questioning their roles. Older females who have fought for years against the stereotype of the princess who is always waiting to be recognized by her prince (and to fit into the glass slipper — we could write an entire essay on that metaphor) would argue that this new version doesn’t quite have enough oomph to define Cinderella as a modern woman, but the little girls in the audience didn’t seem to care. All they wanted to see was that over-the-top magnificence of women in poufy ball gowns, of magical golden carriages pulled by animals-turned-into-servants, and the happily-ever-after fantasy of love. And they got that.
So, Cinderella, do we “love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because we love you?”
The Triangle engagement of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella continues at DPAC throughout tomorrow night. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find someone who will sell tickets to you and your favorite princess/prince.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 31st Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/review-cinderella-sparkles-with-magic-feeling/article_2eba4696-cf78-11e6-bf55-333314d7243a.html; Dec. 22nd preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment_more/fairy-tale-cinderella-a-chance-to-dream-beyond-the-ball/article_d76f1f34-c87d-11e6-ad32-0f0dd203625b.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); Dec. 28th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/an-american-in-paris/Event?oid=4995524; and Dec. 23rd Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: http://www.wral.com/elon-grad-hits-stage-in-cinderella-at-dpac/16358311/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 29th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/12/rodgers-hammersteins-cinderella-at-dpac-features-a-new-book-and-new-songs-and-beaucoup-magic/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA at 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 31 and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 1 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $35-$115. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/806215.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.cinderellaonbroadway.com/lookandlisten.
TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.cinderellaonbroadway.com/castandcreative#creative.
Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper Cendrillon, ou La petite Pantoufle de Verre (1697 French fairy tale): http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0510a.html#perrault (from D. L. Ashliman’s folk texts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella (Wikipedia).
Charles Perrault (French author, 1628-1703): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Perrault (Wikipedia).
Cinderella (e-texts of various versions of the fairy tale, as written by Charles Perrault and others): http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0510a.html (from D. L. Ashliman’s folk texts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology).
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1957 television musical): http://www.rnh.com/show/22/Cinderella (Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/461545/Cinderella/ (Turner Classic Movies), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Richard Rodgers (New York City composer, 1902-79): http://www.rnh.com/bio/175/Rodgers-Richard (Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8323 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006256/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Rodgers (Wikipedia).
Oscar Hammerstein II (New York City lyricist and librettist, 1895-1960): http://www.rnh.com/bio/154/Hammerstein-II-Oscar (Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=7965 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0358564/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Hammerstein_II (Wikipedia).
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella (2013 Broadway musical): http://cinderellaonbroadway.com/ (official Broadway website), http://www.rnh.com/show/364/Cinderella-Broadway-Version (Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=493253 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella_%282013_Broadway_production%29 (Wikipedia).
Douglas Carter Beane (New York City playwright and screenwriter): http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=407150 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Carter_Beane (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.