Audiences are transported back to the Golden Age of Broadway, with a post-modern twist, in this utterly charming new production. Beautiful songs (as only Rodgers and Hammerstein can write), a terrific cast, a witty new script and incredible production values make this a show to be treasured.
Book writer du jour Douglas Carter Beane has re-invigorated Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1957 television special, with extra songs from their rich canon expanding the work to a full length Broadway musical. With the nodding wink of a Disney feature, adults and children alike will find plenty to laugh at, especially as delivered by the dream cast of Broadway professionals. The score leaves you humming with joy as you leave the theatre happily entertained, if not particularly enlightened in any way.
It is bizarre to think that Laura Osnes was discovered in a tv reality show to cast Grease. She is the perfect Broadway heroine, a golden-voiced angel with a purity of tone that recalls the classic Broadway heroines of the 1950s. Even better, in addition to being a charming actress, Osnes can dance as expertly as a chorus girl, making her a true triple threat. If there is one drawback to Osnes’ consistently gorgeous tone, it is that all her songs tend to sound a little bit the same. Still, countless little girls girls will go home wishing they had her forest friends, fairy godmother and charming prince. And if they model themselves on Ella’s kindness as well, that is a special added bonus.
Santino Fontana may not be the stereotypical pretty-boy prince, but he has expert comic delivery, giving Topher an engaging edge that saves the role for being a bland, vacuous one. Fontana and Osnes share lovely chemistry that drives the story despite the fact that the outcome is basically clearly known to all from the outset.
Luxury casting comes from a pair of Tony-winning Broadway divas of the highest order. Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza) is all adorable charm as the flying, magic-powered fairy godmother Marie, while Harriet Harris (Thoroughly Modern Millie) is all adorable crabbiness as the social-climbing wicked stepmother Madame. The expertise, professionalism and sheer talent of the pair elevates the production above the classy affair it already is.
Ann Harada, back on stage after the thankless role of the Bombshell stage manager in tv’s Smash, is a hoot as spoilt stepsister Charlotte, nicely partnered by Marla Mindelle as socially conscious stepsister Gabrielle.
Gabrielle is attracted to the outspoken Jean-Michel (Greg Hildreth), a somewhat heavy-handed character invented for the stage show. Peter Bartlett rounds out the supporting cast as the sycophantic and manipulative Sebastian, aide to the Prince.
Scenic design by Anna Louizos is absolutely sumptuous, a cavalcade of moving forests and ballrooms that is a pleasure to behold. Any reader aware of the spectacular portfolio of costume designer William Ivey Long will not be surprised to hear that not only are the costumes eye-poppingly gorgeous, but there are a range of wickedly clever tricks allowing magical fast changes for Ella and her fairy godmother. To see all the female cast dancing in their jewel-toned ball gowns is a sight to behold.
Forced to enter the Best Revival category of the Tonys, despite being the first Broadway outing for the property, the show will face stiff competition from Pippin. Still, for little girls, incredibly well served by both Annie and Matilda this season, this is the show to see. An Australian season would be most welcome.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella has an open-ended run at the Broadway Theater.
Photos: Carol Rosegg