Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
This Cinderella began life as a television property. It was first broadcast in 1957 with Julie Andrews, and then subsequently in 1965 with Lesley Ann Warren and 1997 with Brandy Norwood. Like all major versions of the story, this one follows the tale of a mistreated stepdaughter who is transformed outwardly to match her already intact inner beauty just in time to go to the royal ball and fall in love with the prince.
The current tour and the recent Broadway revival utilizes a new book by Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu, Sister Act) which significantly changes the original one by Oscar Hammerstein II. The new story contains some effective one-liners and has new characters, additional conflict, a secondary romantic couple, and some added social commentary. While the main storyline remains the one familiar to most people, purists may find the changes to be too much, and the political correctness of the new material a bit heavy handed. Still, the new material adds some effective comedy, more depth to the characters, positive messages, and an overall heightened excitement.
The score by the legendary team of Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (lyrics) includes "The Prince Is Giving a Balls" "In My Own Little Corner" (Cinderella's want song), "Impossible: It's Possible," a duet for Cinderella and her fairy godmother, the beautiful love duet "Ten Minutes Ago," and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?." This offering also contains five additional Rodgers & Hammerstein songs not heard in the original TV broadcast. The rich and haunting music and wonderfully descriptive lyrics are a great fit for the material and in line with the writing team's typical quality work.
As Cinderella, Kaitlyn Davidson, who is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) just an hour south of Dayton, skillfully captures the tenderhearted nature of the character, is a great dancer, and sings with crisp and clear vocals. She also conveys the longing and insecurities of this unexpected princess, as well as her new found strength. Andy Jones supplies perfect vocals as Topher (the Prince) and commendably communicates the young Prince's sincerity and uncertainty. Broadway vet Liz McCartney brings warmth, quirkiness, and a motherly touch as Marie, the fairy godmother, and sings well.
As Madame, Blair Ross (recent Side Show revival) is aptly vicious, but (thankfully) not so over-the-top to make it seem out of place. Understudy Summer Broyhill earns lots of laughs as mean stepsister Charlotte, and Kimberly Faure supplies an effective mix of nerdy kookiness and kindness as the now not-so-mean stepsister Gabrielle. David Andino is solid both vocally and acting-wise as the feisty, justice-seeking Jean-Michel, and Chauncey Packer shows off great singing as Lord Pinkleton. As the Prince's not-so-nice advisor Sebastian, Blake Hammond is sufficient, but could make sharper acting choices to create a more distinct characterization. The entire ensemble, which includes a few other CCM grads (one of which is southwest Ohio local product Lauren Sprague) does a first-rate job in support.
Director Mark Brokaw applies a light touch to the proceedings, bringing a loving tone to the piece. The various special effects for the transformations are a visual treat, and the scene transitions are especially smooth. Choreographer Josh Rhodes supplies suitable dances throughout, with some beautiful partner work at the ball scene being a highlight. Valerie Gebert leads a lush-sounding orchestra.
Some of Broadway's best designers have worked on this project. Anna Louizos (High Fidelity, In the Heights) supplies gorgeous sets, with exquisite details for the woods and Cinderella's home. The costumes by Broadway legend William Ivey Long are vibrant, varied, and visually stunning, as usual. Lighting by Kenneth Posner (Wicked, Little Women) includes good use of shadows in the woods and beautiful colors in the backlighting in the opening scenes.
This Cinderella has some new twists on the familiar tale, and is one of several very strong shows presented within the next few months as part of the Premier Health Broadway Series in Dayton. A very talented cast, effective humor, interesting story, first rate design, and classic songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein make this a great choice for both kids and adults, and a lovely show overall.
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella continues at the Schuster Center in Dayton through February 14, 2016. Tickets can be ordered by calling 937-228-3630. For more information on the tour, please visit www.cinderellaonbroadway.com/tour.