Bridget McCarthy ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Stage Editor
A goofy but endearing boy meets a beautiful but quirky girl, and the two instantly fall in love. The couple is then separated by status, the girl’s knack for social justice, and the boy’s obliviousness to those around him. No, this isn’t the IMDB synopsis for the newest romantic comedy starring Zooey Deschanel and James Marsden. Actually, it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical, Cinderella.
Little girls in tiaras and tulle dominated the Boston Opera House on Wednesday, September 30, giving a youthful excitement to the theater. That same child-like enthusiasm translated to the stage as the production gave a modern take on a classic tale.
Cinderella has music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. The production was originally written for television in 1957 and starred Julie Andrews. Although it never had a Broadway debut in the ’50s, the Tony Awards considered the 2013 Broadway production as a revival. One of the reasons it was categorized as such is that it features a new book by Douglas Carter Beane.
Beane’s book contains a lot of contemporary inflections reminiscent of a sitcom. For older attendees, the endless sarcasm and lack of subtlety in the dialogue gets old. The performers are constricted to an over-the-top acting style in order to align properly with the script. This forced modernism feels ungenuine and can be disappointing at times, though it never seems to fail for the children in the audience.
It should not go unnoticed that the new book, although contrived, does add depth to the characters, especially Cinderella. Beane makes a valiant attempt to show Cinderella in a three-dimensional light, as she remains spirited and kind despite a dismal life of work. Cinderella fights for her own personal dreams of equality and even assists the prince in realizing his own aspirations. The new book isn’t flawless, but it is a step in the right direction—especially for all those little girls in the audience with dreams of their own.
The message of compassion is enhanced by the beautiful storytelling of Paige Faure. Faure plays the title character of Cinderella accurately, portraying Ella’s timid demeanor while always appearing strong through the power of kindness. Faure’s voice has the same contradiction as her character, as her sound remains delicate while filling the house with intensity. Faure also never falls short on dance numbers, executing the moves with the same preciseness as the ensemble.
The first big ensemble dance number, “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” does not disappoint. Choreography by Josh Rhodes provides a special energy while still maintaining a difficulty level that is visually awing for the audience. The group waltz in the ballroom is a beautiful splash of moving colors, enhanced with costume design by William Ivey Long.
The costumes in Cinderella are performers in their own right, as unbelievable quick-changes appear magical. The switch of Cinderella’s dress from rags to riches is seamless, warranting well-deserved gasps from the audience, who may feel as though they have just witnessed a magic trick. Long won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design for obvious reasons, as the wardrobe transformations are worthy of some of the biggest rounds of applause in the show.
Scenic design by Anna Louizos brings this fairytale world to life with forests, ballrooms and a pumpkin that miraculously turns into a horse-drawn carriage. Louizos carries her set with a youthful aesthetic, adding components that young viewers may enjoy, such as friendly raccoon and fox puppets that pop out of trees and white horses covered in Christmas lights that spin around the stage.
Despite the new book, which puts a millennial love story in a fairytale kingdom, the music remains classical and heartwarming. Favorites such as “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible/It’s Possible,” “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” are standouts in the score so perfectly composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
In Cinderella, where the new version sometimes feels inferior to the “golden age” of the show, making sure the score is honored is vital. Keeping these songs in amidst a modern book ensures that both the duo’s legendary legacy and musical theater as an art are revered. Also, hiring leads like Paige Faure (Cinderella) and Andy Huntington Jones (Prince Topher), who can both execute the classical sound of Rodgers and Hammerstein exquisitely, shows Cinderella’s goal to remain true to the original version while still adding a contemporary twist.
In the show’s effort to stay stylish with a present-day context, Cinderella aims to appeal to children/young teenagers. Another way the production is lending itself to wider audiences is through an autism-friendly performance on Sunday, October 4. Broadway in Boston is teaming up with Autism Speaks to present a live performance of this classic story that so many cherish to people with autism, who may not be able to see a regular show. There are slight production adjustments, trained support staff for assistance, calming areas, and most importantly, a judgment free environment for those in attendance.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh will be the Honorary Chairman of the event committee, and tickets will be sold at special prices of $75, $55, $35, and $20. Cinderella is proving “It’s Possible!” for anyone to see this production.
Through the themes of compassion and equality, Cinderella pays homage to a diverse audience of all ages and backgrounds. Even though Cinderella’s jump into the 21st-century is a large leap, by honoring Rodgers and Hammerstein’s original score and with classic actors, the production is able to overcome that rom-com feel. Audiences may not be transported to the golden age of musical theater, but they are moved to an age of theater that is all-inclusive and kind.