I remember watching the 1965 remake of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella on television when I was probably still in single digits, years before I became a musical-theater dancer. Lesley Ann Warren was Cinderella, Stuart Damon was the Prince, Celeste Holm was the Fairy Godmother, and Walter Pidgeon and Ginger Rogers were the King and Queen. I loved it because I loved the music (“Ten Minutes Ago” may have started my love affair with waltzes) and because … well, what little girl doesn’t love the story of Cinderella?
The touring version of the 2013 Broadway production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which opened on Nov. 18th at the Durham Performing Arts Center, still features Rodgers & Hammerstein’s charming score (with a couple of new songs pulled from other R&H shows), and the age-old story of Cinderella is still there, but with a few twists to make the story more modern. The casting and performances (including the orchestra) were flawless, the costumes (by North Carolina native William Ivey Long) sumptuous, and the set designs (by Anna Louizos) both magical and magically functional.
Ella (Cinderella), as played by Paige Faure, is a feisty girl who is nonetheless haunted by self-doubts and, of course, lives with a less than kindly stepmother and stepsisters. (Or at least one of the stepsisters is less than kindly, but we’ll get to that later.) Ella puts herself and her ideas forward with bravado one minute, only to shrink back and second-guess herself the next. Faure never hit a false note, whether in her singing or her characterization of Cinderella.
Andy Jones’ Prince Topher (short for Christopher), is unworldly and untried, but possesses a noble heart and longs to accomplish something good in his life. In this production, the prince’s parents are long dead; and he is “advised” by Sebastian (Blake Hammond), the nefarious prime minister who shields Topher from the realities of ruling and passes unfair laws in his name. Jones manages to play the naïvete of the prince without turning him into a buffoon, and his clear-toned tenor voice blends beautifully with Faure’s.
The cast was strong across the board — not a weak actor in the bunch. However, Kecia Lewis as Crazy Marie/The Fairy Godmother definitely deserves a mention, both for her powerful vocals and for delivering “pep-talk” lines that could have sounded preachy with just the right combination of encouragement, not-so-subtle sarcasm, and gentle chiding. Beth Glover was wonderful as Madame (Cinderella’s stepmother), managing to play the character for broad humor while avoiding caricature, instead imbuing her character with humanity. The same compliment can be paid to Ashley Park and Aymee Garcia, as Stepsisters Gabrielle and Charlotte, respectively. Their characters were ultimately very likable, and their singing was right on the mark.
David Andino creates an endearing rebel in Jean-Michel, a supporting character added to the Broadway production. Jean-Michel is passionate about righting wrongs, but also about Gabrielle, who secretly returns his feelings. Luckily, he succeeds on both fronts, with a little help from Cinderella. Antoine L. Smith, as Lord Pinkleton, might not have a huge role, but he plays (and sings) it with gusto — and he can ring a bell with style.
The sets are right out of a storybook and fly in and out and around the stage as fluidly as Kecia Lewis’ Fairy Godmother (although I was dismayed to be able to see her trapeze being prepared in the wings for the final scene). Cinderella’s coach is appropriately dazzling, and the trip to the castle simply handled but fun. William Ivey Long’s costumes are a feast for the eye, and Cinderella’s ball gown transitions are gasp-inducing and applause-worthy. (As a designer and seamstress myself, it was all I could do not to bang on the stage door after the show and demand to be shown how the costumes were engineered.) Kenneth Posner’s lighting design and Nevin Steinberg’s sound design are the whipped cream and cherry on top of Cinderella’s luscious visual design confection.
Mark Brokaw’s direction and Josh Rhodes’ choreography make for a lively, briskly paced show — vital when your audiences are going to be packed with potentially restless children. Music director and conductor Jay Alger never misses a cue and keeps his cast and orchestra in perfect sync.
Although I was skeptical at first, the updates to the story line are woven into the original plot pretty seamlessly and work well overall. This production’s Cinderella is no pushover, passively waiting to be rescued by her prince. She makes her own luck — which just happens to include accepting a little magical assistance from her Fairy Godmother. The inspirational message is there, but the script doesn’t beat the audience over the head with it. If you’re looking for a family outing this weekend, you couldn’t do better than Cinderella. Children of all ages should be delighted.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 19th Raleigh, NC Foxy Hits 107.1/104.3 FM review with Nix: http://foxync.com/3406536/cinderella-at-the-dpac/; Nov. 18th Raleigh, NC Radio 96.1 preview with Alli Morgan for “The Blah Blah Blah Blog”: http://radio961.blogspot.com/2014/11/cinderella-is-magic.html; Nov. 16th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview with Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/11/15/4320853/broadway-on-tour-your-last-chance.html; Nov. 13th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x1918012947/A-Fairy-Godmother-whose-wish-came-true (Note: You must subscribe to read this article); and Nov. 10th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh interview with Andy Jones, conducted by Jeffrey Karasarides: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interviews-Andy-Jones-of-RODGERS-HAMMERSTEINS-CINDERELLA-National-Tour-20141110. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 18th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/11/rodgers-hammersteins-cinderella-features-a-new-book-by-douglas-carter-beane-and-new-songs/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 and 20, 8 p.m. Nov. 21, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 22, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 23 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, NC 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS:$46.54-$167.48 (including fees).
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/806215.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services. SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/cinderella and https://www.facebook.com/events/252484121602980/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20rEbtqnMcQ.
STUDY GUIDE: http://www.cinderellaonbroadway.com/files/educationguide.pdf.
THE TOUR: http://www.cinderellaonbroadway.com/tour/.
TOUR CAST: http://cinderellaonbroadway.com/Playbill_CastList_Website.pdf.
TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.cinderellaonbroadway.com/castandcreative#creative.
SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the 8 p.m. Friday, Nov 21st, performance.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1957 television musical): http://www.rnh.com/show/22/Cinderella (Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization) 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), 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), 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.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).
Mark Brokaw (director): http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=85204 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Brokaw (Wikipedia).
Josh Rhodes (Broadway and tour choreographer): http://www.joshrhodes.co/ (official website) and http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=71545 (Internet Broadway Database).
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s Triangle Review reviews, click here. To read more of her CVNC reviews, click here.