It’s been a little while since I’ve posted about going to the theater, so let me tell you about the first show I saw in 2014. It’s a little musical called Cinderella, and it’s currently starring Carly Rae Jepsen and Fran Drescher, at the Broadway Theater. An unlikely pairing, maybe, for a Rogers and Hammerstein musical that originally starred Julie Andrews (more on that later), but I can’t comment too much on that because I didn’t see Carly Rae Jepsen. According to the playbill, her understudy, Jessica Hershberg, goes on every Saturday evening and Wednesday matinee, and I saw the show on a Saturday night. Ann Harada, one of the stepsisters, who was the original Christmas Eve from Avenue Q, also wasn’t in it that night; her role was played Laura Irion (who was great!).
I can’t review Carly Rae’s performance, but I can tell you: Jessica Hershberg was fantastic. Her voice is stunning, her dancing is gorgeous, and her earnest Ella is lovely, especially against a backdrop of a new book, with modern updates and humor. Fran Drescher as the stepmother plays it about as you’d expect – her voice carries the weight of the humor and there’s not a lot of nuance to her delivery, but her posturing and pronunciation is over-the-top and made me laugh.
I have to say, I was a little skeptical of the new book. I was in Cinderella in high school, and I’ve watched the Julie Andrews movie more times than I can count. The movie, by the way, is the original production. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the musical to be live broadcast in 1957, with Julie Andrews as its star, and drew over 107 million viewers. I believe it broke records for the most number of viewers at the time.
So this production, the musical’s first on Broadway, had a lot to live up to. While the new book wasn’t perfect (there’s no punishment, really, for the show’s villains, and we lose some fun moments because in this version the prince’s parents are dead), in general it’s a lot of fun! Cinderella has more agency and is even an activist, talking to the prince on behalf of her social activist friend about how the country needs change. It’s a good change to the plot, but at times it gets a little convoluted.
Some of the added songs (which as far as I can tell are all from other Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, or were cut from other shows of theirs) are not great. “Me, Who am I?” was fun, and “Loneliness of Evening”, from South Pacific, is lovely and engaging. But “He Was Tall”, which was cut from The King and I, is short and really not necessary when we’re about to hear the fabulous “When You’re Driving through Moonlight” and “A Lovely Night”, one of my favorite parts of the whole musical. Do lyrics get better than “And below them is a row of light windows like a lovely diamond necklace in the dark”?
The song “There’s Music in You”, performed beautifully by Victoria Clark, is from a movie in which Rodgers and Hammerstein played themselves, and the lyrics are a little hokey and cliché. “Someone wants you, you know who. Now you’re living, there’s music in you.” Really?! What a waste of the fairy godmother’s gorgeous voice. This would have been a perfect moment to reprise “Impossible”, but instead we’re stuck with a ballad that slows the action.
But at the end of the day, my measure of whether I think a show was good tends to be, am I laughing or crying at the end? Did it affect me strongly enough to provoke one of those reactions in me? I laughed all the way through Cinderella – and watched big-eyed as the fairy godmother transformed from a beggar woman to her dazzling self in front of us, and when Ella had not one but two dazzling onstage costume changes. The set is grand and ambitious, but it works perfectly with the story being told. I loved when Ella decides to leave behind the slipper and give the prince a chance to find her; when her kind stepsister hugs her and wants to help; when the prince is nervous and talks too much.
If you’re looking for a show to see with your mom, or your little cousins or nieces, or, really, anyone who enjoys Rodgers and Hammerstein music or a good fairy tale, check out Cinderella. Carly Rae and Fran are only in it through April 4, but I’m sure whoever replaces them (I’m crossing my fingers for Jessica Hershberg to step into the role full time!) will keep the same spirit of fun!
Anyone seen any good shows lately?