Cinderella stories are one of the most well known and beloved story archetypes in history. Existing in different forms across cultures and continents, Cinderella is a story that transcends boundaries to connect with people the world over. It stands to reason then, that the story would be one of the foundational pieces of musical theater as well.
Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is phenomenal. The music is simple yet unforgettable and the story is undeniably classic. Despite the numerous film productions over the years, that have become classics in their own rights, there is something magical about seeing a production of this quality on stage. With a fabulous cast and amazing costuming, this is a show you won’t want to miss.
What truly makes this production unique, however, is the new dialogue written by Douglas Carter Beane. Although still boasting the same story and songs (don’t worry), Beane’s new script breathes new life into the story, transforming Cinderella from a lucky girl swept along by fate, into a kind and vibrant protagonist who takes charge of her own destiny.
For the most part, it works. I’m still a big fan of the original script by Oscar Hammerstein II, but this version definitely has its place. A few moments feel overly modern, especially in the second act, and one or two songs, such as “In My Own Little Corner,” feel a bit shoe-horned into the show at first.
However, when the show works, it shines. Unlike many iterations of the story, a lot of time and thought is put into developing the relationship between Cinderella and the prince. The lovebirds actually talk and bond over shared values before iconic songs such as “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful.” The Fairy Godmother is also more contemporary. Disguised as Village Crazy Lady, Marie, this Godmother is already a friend to Ella. She boosts the protagonist up and helps her realize her potential rather than simply appearing out of nowhere and solving all her problems with the wave of a magic wand.
Speaking of Fairy Godmothers, Zina Ellis is resplendent in the role. Ellis’ voice alone would be enough to make her stand out, but her performance is equally good. Transforming from hunched Crazy Marie into the beautiful and confident fairy godmother we all wish was ours.
The most amazing parts of this production, however, are the costumes. Designed by six-time Tony winner William Ivey Long, each costume is carefully crafted to tell the stories of these characters. The details are astounding, even the women in the marketplace scene have brightly colored petticoats that show up in bursts of color as they dance. However it is the transformations that will take your breath away. Ball gowns appear in moments, twirling into being as if by magic. The godmother’s enormous gown unfurls on stage out of her beggar’s cloak. Each costume seems more amazing than the last, perfectly outfitting the characters of this fairytale world.
Although the updated script doesn’t always hit its mark, Cinderella is delightful and sweet throughout. Stuffed full of talented actors and stunning costumes, the classic tale shines. Updating the Cinderella for a modern audience is not a new idea, however few productions still immerse you in a fairytale world while allowing for strong female leads and complex characters.
Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is playing at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts (255 S. Almaden Boulevard) from November 30 through December 2, 2018. The show runs about two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission. Tickets start at $43.