Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Touring CINDERELLA charms and delights with its modern political messages

Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the fathers of the modern American musical, were advocates of social responsibility.  In OKLAHOMA, they stressed the building of community.  In SOUTH PACIFIC they pegged prejudice.  In THE KING AND I, the duo examined intercultural understandings. 

These were the words I used several years ago to start my glowing Broadway review of RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA.

I also stated that the duo would be pleased to know that Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the new book for the 1957 for-television musical, CINDERELLA, has picked up their social cause theme and added the need for civility, that there can be democracy within a monarchy, and a plea for forgiveness, to the traditional fairy tale story. 

Beane’s version cuts out the king and queen and adds new characters, such as Jean-Michel, a peasant political do-gooder, who lusts after Cinderella’s nice sister, Gabriella, and Sebastian, the prince’s mean-spirited advisor.  He has made the prince, Topher (short for Christopher and about six middle names), into an awkward naïve youth who transforms before our eyes into a benevolent leader and all-around nice guy.  These storyline changes work well, adding some mild intrigue to the well-worn tale. 

The score includes such traditional favorites as “In My Own Little Corner of the World,” “Impossible,” “It’s Possible,” “A Lovely Night,” “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” and “There’s Music in You.”

There has also been an addition of Rogers and Hammerstein songs that never made it into any of the duo’s original script, but remained for future use.  The future has arrived and the score has been enhanced with “Me, Who Am I,” “Loneliest of Evening,” The Pursuit,” and “Now Is the Time.”

The touring production, under the direction of Gina Rattan, based on the original direction of Mark Brokaw, is delightful.  It is filled with creative staging, a strong cast (few are seasoned professionals, but it matters little), nicely conceived sets, and well-designed lighting and special effects. 

“Impossible” and “It’s Possible” are sensory visual explosions, with quick costume changes and puppet mice and woodland creatures transitioning into footman and horses, and a pumpkin becoming a golden carriage. “Ten Minutes Ago” and its reprise were lovely.

The technical aspects of the production were of high quality.  The wondrous costume changes, which take place before our very eyes evoked, “How did that happen?”

The cast is strong, with solid voices and high quality dance skills. 

Kaitlin Mayse creates an Ella (Cinderella) who is strong willed, not the usual meek and mild prince-chaser.   She is a modern woman, who can and does speak her mind, when she so desires.  Speaking it in “nice” words and convincing manner and singing with a nicely trained voice. 

Ella’s prince, Topher, whip-thin Lukas James Miller, is wisely cast.  He is not matinee idol handsome, nor full of bluster.  Miller is adequately attractive with large eyes that reflect his confused state of his purpose in life.  He moves slightly stooped, reflecting the weight of the world he bears on his slight shoulders. 

Ella and Topher’s duets were all well sung.

Zina Ellis was fairy-godmother charming, nicely transitioning from crazed beggar woman to Ella’s guide to a better life. 

Joanna Johnson was easily the audience favorite as the “zaftig,” overbearing stepsister, Charlotte.  Her “Stepsister’s Lament” was a hoot.

Natalie Girard was appealing as the “good” step-sister and nicely matched with Nic Casaula as Jean-Michel, the “firebrand” rebel with a cause.

The chorus was outstanding, singing and dancing with fresh delight.

Capsule judgement: The touring production of ROGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA is well conceived and performed.  It is charming and delightful to the eye and ear.  It’s the wonderful experience that will leave audiences, young and old, glad they went to the theater and wishing for return trips. 

ROGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA is at the Connor Palace for a short run, January 15-20, 2019.  For tickets to this must see musical call 216-241-6000 or go to

Next up at Playhouse Square is the Key Bank series production of “Miss Saigon” from January 29 through February 17, 2019.