How it’s New York: Cinderella is a Broadway show, and New Yorkers are starry-eyed kids underneath.
How it’s Irish: Irish Repertory Theatre’s gala this year focused on the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein; Ciaran O’Reilly referred to that lost tribe (that made it to Ireland!). And the Irish have their share of fairy-tales, though usually not so happy.
“Ten minutes ago, I saw you…” sings the prince.
“Sigh,” says the audience.
The beautiful, balletic waltzing that follows, as sweet-singing Laura Osnes as Cinderella dances with her well-meaning prince, put stars in the eyes of all the little girls in the audience.
It almost felt as if the room swayed, as the audience rocked a little with the gorgeous waltz. Josh Rhodes’ choreography makes the ball a world of enchantment. You’ll leave “Cinderella” with wide eyes too, a refreshed hope in idealism and love, and the refrain of “Ten Minutes Ago” in your head.
The “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” is on Broadway for the first time ever. The show began its life as a 1957 television special starring Julie Andrews, and though it’s been adapted for theatre since then, it’s never been on the Great White Way.
This “Cinderella” is Tony-nominated for Best Revival of a Musical, and Douglas Carter Beane for Best Book (Kind of interesting, here, as the Book competes with new musicals).
Beane, best known for “As Bees in Honey Drown,” (who also wrote the book to “Sister Act”), gives the show a little bit of satire in his book, which replaces that of Oscar Hammerstein II. He’s rethought the story to make it a little bigger than one prince and one overlooked young girl.
The fairytale outline is here: Cinderella (Laura Osnes) is a maid-of-all-work to her mean stepmother, Madame (Harriet Harris). She has two ugly-ish stepsisters (well, compared to her, anyway), Gabrielle (Marla Mindelle) and Charlotte (Ann Harada). The prince, Topher (Santino Fontana) gives a ball to meet an eligible girl to marry, and when Cinderella can’t go, her fairy godmother, Marie (Victoria Clark), who also poses as a village idiot, steps in to help.
The show’s theatrical effects are old-fashioned: I liked that, it’s like turning the page in a children’s fairy tale. The horses in the carriage are clearly puppets. You can see the wires holding up Marie. I loved the puppet fox and raccoon. The quick changes for the transformation of Cinderella from rags to ballgowns are magical. Throughout, William Ivey Long’s costumes dazzle. (note: he won a Tony Award for them!) Anna Louizos’ set includes trees from a magical forest, a Tudor-ish hamlet and a castle ballroom, all of which feel weirdly familiar, as if we’ve seen them in children’s books long ago.
Beane imagines that one of the stepsisters, Gabrielle, has more of a social conscience, and she’s being wooed by chubby firebrand Jean-Michel (Greg Hildreth), in a little nod, perhaps, to “Les Miz.” They’re funny and awkward, but a little of that
goes a long way, to be honest, and to tell the story properly, Beane ends up having to invent a dinner that follows the ball. Cinderella also urges the shy prince, who in this incarnation is an orphan, bossed around by a shady counselor, Sebastian (deliciously hammy Peter Bartlett), to listen to his people. She matches her heart to thought.
But if all of the new stuff didn’t quite gel, all of the old stuff does. There are some songs from the Rodgers + Hammerstein catalogue cleverly inserted, too. Jean-Michel’s “Now Is the Time” was cut from “South Pacific,” and it’s a rousing anthem.
Osnes is a knockout.
She brings a wholesome sweetness that is never cloying, intelligence that is kind, and the voice of a nightingale to the role. She’s perfect. Little girls will want to be just like her, and I’m defining “little” loosely here. All the boys fall for her (have you read any of the reviews?). Osnes has been nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical. She’s got stiff competition, but I hope she wins. She’s my pick. (note: she didn’t. But should have).
She plays an ingénue, and makes her not just wonderful, but possible. That’s a magical achievement.
Santino has a sweet tenor, and an appealing presence but lacks a little glamor (he’s also got a Tony nom). He doesn’t really need as many personality traits as Beane has loaded on him, to be honest; the audience is happy to fill in with what “prince” means. Ann Harada’s comic, frustrated Charlotte nearly steals the show with her “Stepsister’s Lament.” Harris’ Madame sends some zingers out, and shows panache, and Clark’s Marie is both funny and wise. Mark Brokaw’s direction shows human beings in a magical world.
Like the thigh-high boots in “Kinky Boots,” the Venetian glass slipper in “Cinderella” shows that a shoe can change your life.
Everyone lives happily ever after.
Especially the audience.