3/24/2022 RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA Aurora Theatre
RIDICULE AND NICENESS
It would be so easy to write a scathing piece today, ridiculing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I was never a fan of it and, truth to tell, I spent most of Act II checking my watch and wishing for a quicker end. But, like its main character, I hope to one day see the triumph of niceness over meanness, so, I will lock up my brickbats and find everything I can to praise.
The only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written for television, it first saw life in a 70-minute 1957 telecast starring Julie Andrew, and was remade twice, in 1965 and 1997. The score has none of the appeal of R&H’s stage work, but the movies were a charming ( if slight) re-telling of a familiar story, filled with fast-paced charm. There have been many stage versions that have come and gone and in 2013, a new expanded re-write hit Broadway.
The new book by Douglas Carter Beane adds additional songs and creates new characters. I like how the additions make for a more interesting Prince, who is now a young man trying to find himself, easily manipulated by his greedy and ambitious Lord Chancellor. I like how Cinderella and the Prince meet long before the ball and find an instant attraction. I like how step-sister Gabrielle is sympathetic towards Cinderella and longs for her own “prince,” a firebrand revolutionary named Jean-Michel. I like how “Crazy Marie” responds to Cinderella’s kindness and becomes her “fairy godmother.” And I like how all the characters are deeper and richer than we expect from earlier versions of this story.
If I were stooping to ridicule here, I would carp that this is the only R&H score in which the songs don’t really move the plot forward -- they just sit there, more interruption than enhancement. But this column is all about kindness, so I will
emphasize instead how the songs reveal character and how they let the talented cast create their magic and show off their (considerable) skill. And make no mistake, this show is filled to the brim with magic and talent.
Last night’s performance featured understudy Isa Martinez filling in as Cinderella for India Tyree, which should have been cause for disappointment, especially after Ms. Tyree’s breathtakingly excellent performance in The Last Five Years earlier this year. But this was a classic understudy moment – Isa Martinez displayed boatloads of talent and charm and appeal, and they made Cinderella a truly original creation. I look forward to their future work, hopefully in a show’s “A” cast.
Some familiar faces filled out the cast with creatively original work in some familiar roles – Marcie Millard as the cruel stepmother, Candy McLellan as the nice step-sister, Galen Crawley as the spoiled and diva-esque step-sister, Rhyn McLemore as Crazy Marie (Fairy Godmother), Steve Hudson as Lord Chamberlain Sebastian. Newcomer (to Atlanta) Jackson Hurt was a wonderful Prince Topher and Marcello Audino also impressed as the firebrand Jean-Michel.
Especially impressive was the young and talented ensemble, amazingly athletic, elegantly graceful, going through Director/Choreographer Ricardo Aponte’s intricate paces with apparent ease and spectacular effect.
All the technical aspects dazzled and filled the stage with light and magic. Sets by Kat Conley with their story-book sketch motifs, lights by Ben Rawson with their story-book color and perfectly timed cuing, costumes by Alan Yeong with their quick-change transformative magic, properties by Ryan Bradburn with their exaggerated story-book simplicity, and whoever designed and executed the over-sized giant and dragon puppets.
And, as usual, Musical Director Ann-Carol Pence kept the large pit on key and the chorus in perfect sync. She made this score (one I’ve never really liked) almost palatable.
I also must add a note about the New Lawrence Arts Center venue. It is large, airy, comfortable, and a perfect home for this heavy-tech production. I was afraid the extreme depth and height of the stage would cause intimacy to be sacrificed for spectacle. But the acoustics (and sound balancing) kept me engaged as if it were a small black box. I really like this space and look forward to seeing shows here that are more “my cup of tea.”
I suspect I may be in the minority for my disinterest in this show. Thursday’s audience was fully engaged and enthusiastic in their response. Sure, I see this as a 70-minute show padded to fill three hours. It is also a spectacular produced entertainment, filled to the slipper-top with talented actors and designers and musicians and imagination.
Who says it’s too difficult to be nice?
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #ATCinderella)