“It’s a lot of fun to be in a fairy tale…” So says Santino Fontana, costar of recent Broadway arrival Cinderella (Playbill) — and having seen the production on its opening weekend, I can’t help but agree. No more than ten minutes into this opulent new staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s take on the classic rags-to-riches story, I was eight years old again, fully absorbed in the technicolor fantasy land unfolding before me. Since its 1957 television debut, Cinderella has occasionally been criticized for its alleged lack of the standard Rodgers and Hammerstein sparkle. But with a universally gifted and admirably energetic cast, costumes and sets almost as animated and entirely as well choreographed as the performers, and a reinvigorated book, this production gleamed brilliantly through and through.
The main players left no room for disappointment, with the secondary leads lending new dimensions to their archetypal roles. Marla Mindelle and Ann Harada delighted as the decidedly unugly, but quite tragically tarted up stepsisters, each reveling in the difficulty of earning audience empathy for their flawed characters. Harriet Harris managed to inject just enough humanity into her portrayal of the elegantly evil stepmother to make the matriarch’s perhaps too pat acceptance of Cinderella’s social ascendance forgivable. And Victoria Clark as Marie — a.k.a. the princess-to-be’s fairy godmother — could have given any great Glinda a run for her role.
But for the discerning dancer’s eye, the positively effervescent, inexhaustible ensemble was the principal draw of the evening. From the village square to the royal ballroom, choreographer Josh Rhodes provided the supporting cast with plenty of opportunities to outshine the stars. Mixing classic theater movement with ballet and acrobatics, Rhodes has crafted a collection of dances perfectly suited to the distinctive, spirited rhythm of Rodgers’ score. Impressive as was the choreography, the ensemble’s adept management of William Ivey Long’s elaborate costumes while executing incredibly athletic movement was even more so. Overhead lifts in hefty ball gowns? Check. Transformations from Footman (Andy Mills) and Driver (Cody Williams) to fox and raccoon in the midst of a highly gymnastic chase scene? Check. Rhodes and his team — Associate Choreographer Lee Wilkins, Assistant Choreographer Kristine Bendul, and Dance Assistant Nick Kepley — clearly relish a hefty creative conundrum, and this group of performers has proven more than capable of conquering the challenges presented to them.
Escapism at its finest, the new Cinderella is worth a watch for viewers young in age and young at heart. So snap up your tiara, slap on your glass slippers, and hie thee to the Broadway Theatre — your prince (or princess) awaits!