Thursday, March 12, 2015

reviews - RODGERS + HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA - National Tour: ASU/Gammage

Andy Jones and Paige Faure
(photo: Carol Rosegg)
"With some of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's most romantic songs, it is hard to believe that their 1957 musical Cinderella never officially appeared on Broadway until 2013. The national tour of the Broadway production, at ASU/Gammage for a week long run, is just as good as it was on Broadway, with elaborate sets, stunning costumes and a very talented cast. The interesting thing about this production (now officially called Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella) is that it is very different from the TV versions and previous stage productions. While the main story is still intact, there is now an updated book by Douglas Carter Beane as well as a few songs that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for other musicals and movies, most of which were eventually cut from those works. This updated book provides multiple layers for almost all of the characters, turning them from what were previously fairly one-dimensional and almost stereotypical characters into more realistic ones. Beane's book includes a good amount of humor as well. While the main focus of the story is still on the budding relationship between Cinderella and the Prince, there is now a larger emphasis on the other members of the fairy tale land. Cinderella shows the Prince the injustice that is happening to those around him and introduces him to the less fortunate members of his kingdom. In doing so, Beane has interestingly crafted a story that transforms this somewhat simple fairy tale into one of social injustice as well as a battle of cruelty verses kindness. Several new or beefed up characters add a new dimension not only to the story but also help us see, along with the Prince, what is happening around him.  As Cinderella, Paige Faure has a natural ease at handling the part. She doesn't come across as saccharine, which is as much a tribute to her abilities as it is to Beane's updated book. Her vocals are clear and solid, with a keen understanding and delivery of Hammerstein's lyrics. Her delivery of "In My Own Little Corner" is perfectly balanced with the excitement of the adventurous lyrics and the keen sense of reality that Cinderella's unfortunate predicament entails. In the part of the Prince, Andy Jones easily tackles the task at hand, portraying someone who at first seems to have no care in the world but becomes more in touch with the reality that is happening around him. He has a natural ability to make this initially one dimensional character into something much more, and also to belt out some of the most romantic songs in the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog. Beane has beefed up the part of Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, now named Marie, to a more commanding role, one which provides Kecia Lewis two very different characters to play, both of which she expertly handles. Her connection with Faure is realistic; I like the added humorous touch Lewis brings to the part, and her soaring ballad in act two, "There's Music in You" is a nice addition that really rounds out the role.  Creative aspects of the show are lush and stunning with truly magical costumes by William Ivey Long, including several that transform into other, more elaborate costumes and an inventive and creative set design by Anna Louizos that includes a multitude of trees that move and some beautiful tapestry drops for the King's court. The lighting design by Ken Posner is extremely effective in seamlessly moving us from one locale to another as well as in effectively portraying various times of day. The magical moments, of which there are many, are masterly handled and result in many gasps and rounds of applause from the audience.   Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella is a fresh, updated take on the classic tale with a modern sensibility. It includes some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most romantic songs, and the national tour of the recent Broadway production is well cast, joyous, and full of magic." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"I love big, splashy old-fashioned musicals and the enchanting fairytale Cinderella, this week’s Broadway production at ASU Gammage, is a tunefully pleasant 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that was originally created for television until a successful Broadway revival last season gave the show new life on stage. The opulent and stylish production includes elaborate costumes, lush settings that transform from locale to locale with the magical precision expected from contemporary Broadway musicals, as an outstanding cast create enchanting characterizations as composer Richard Rodgers tunes are sung with reverence and Oscar Hammerstein II’s fanciful lyrics are recited as if people really talked in this magically polite way.  On opening night there were many young children in the audience and “Cinderella” is a wonderful way to introduce the young to the joys of live theater. Everybody knows “Cinderella’s” story.  We all know the ending as things happen with style, flair, a splash of contemporary wit, and a big dash of remarkable make believe.  Oh, some of Douglas Carter Beane’s new book is a bit too much but it’s not a major distraction.There is nothing wrong with occasionally slipping away from today’s harsh reality into a lovely dream like Cinderella." -Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"It's styled as "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella," but the fairy-tale musical currently visiting Tempe's ASU Gammage bears little resemblance to the one that its famous songwriting team created for a live television event starring Julie Andrews in 1957.  The tunes are still theirs, although not all the same ones. But the story has been overhauled by playwright Douglas Carter Beane, best known for the screenplay for "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar," who was charged with giving it a more contemporary spin for the show's 2013 run on Broadway.  The results are a bit of a Frankenstein's monster, but that didn't stop Tuesday's opening-night crowd, packed with tween girls, from enjoying the enthusiastic performances of a talented cast, not to mention the dazzling quick changes of sparkling costumes. Unfortunately, the updated dialogue is a complete mismatch with the elegant (one might even say mannered) songs, which are unmistakably Rodgers and Hammerstein, even if not their most memorable efforts. Thus we're treated to a gaudy masquerade party where our heroine goes gaga for Prince Topher, then, at the stroke of midnight, implores him, "You have to open your eyes to what's happening in your kingdom!" It sounds like an afterthought, and that's exactly what it is, a tacked-on subplot that gives a very old-fashioned story a fig leaf of social relevance.  In short, and ironically enough, Beane has gone out of his way to dress up "Cinderella" as something it simply is not.  None of this reflects poorly on an excellent touring cast that includes several stars who played the same roles on Broadway. These include Kecia Lewis, who belts magnificently as the fairy godmother, Marie. On opening night, Paige Faure was equally wonderful as Ella — an archetypal soprano ingenue — but she will be replaced by two understudies for the remainder of the Tempe run.  Hopefully, that won't make for yet another disappointment in a show that delivers more visual spectacle than storybook charm." -Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

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