BWW Review: Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA Performs at The Landmark Theatre
No doubt you will see tiaras, beautiful ball gowns, slippers made of glass, pumpkins, a Prince, and a clock striking midnight in the current touring production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. Yes, the modern production keeps all those familiar things from the fairytale and the original 1957 musical starring Julie Andrews intact. However, this production - like the most recent Broadway revival on which it is based - features a new book by Douglas Carter Beane (2013 adaptation). He gives the audience new characters and a more sympathetic stepsister. He also provides the Prince with a story/personality and grants Cinderella the power to decide her own destiny. Put succinctly, there are many socio-political undertones within the story and the characters that inhabit it.
The music, set, and costumes stole the show at least for me.
There is no doubt that the audience comes out to hear the gorgeous, well-known music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hamerstein II. Numbers such as "In My Own Little Corner" and "Impossible" are truly enchanting. This version also includes several other Rodgers and Hammerstein songs that were not included in the original production. Music director and conductor
Ryan Sigurdson, along with the seven-member live orchestra, brings the powerful and sweeping music to life beautifully in Syracuse's historic Landmark Theater. As they played the Overture, the passion and beauty of Rodgers and Hammerstein's glorious music - was most evident. It left the audience excited to delve into the story featuring characters both new and old.
Anna Louizos detailed and scene-stealing scenic design is creative and magical; she transports us to a kingdom reminiscent of a Renaissance Festival. Much of the story takes place amongst trees, vines, and forest animals such as raccoons and squirrels. The scenic design and other technical elements, including Kenneth Posner's lighting, play an essential role in one of the most effective moments of the show - the flight to the castle. The moment, which features a glimmering backdrop and a beautiful golden carriage, is impressively staged. Ella (Kaitlyn Mayse) and Marie/Fairy Godmother (Zina Ellis) sing "It's Possible" and there's pure magic on stage.
William Ivey Long's costumes are mesmerizing - and yes Ella's rags transform into a gorgeous sparkling ball gown not once, but twice. The first gown that Ella wears to the Ball is a dazzling and flowing white ball gown and then later the audience witness the rags transform to a gold ball gown. Long's costumes take center stage throughout the production and flow beautifully in the choreography.
As far as the book goes, yes, at times it can be beneficial to modernize stories to make them fresh and more appealing to a broader group of theatergoers. In this case, the show takes a well-known protagonist and transforms her into a political reformer who counsels the Prince on the social problems that are taking place in the kingdom. So, at the ball as she is wearing the traditional ball gown and her main goal is to discuss the politics of the kingdom. The political activism stuck into this fairytale story often at times feels out of place causing much of the story to drag and the romance to disappear.
The production does, however, also feature some strong performers.
Kaitlyn Mayse, as Ella, showcases powerful vocals throughout the show and adds some spunk to the character, which is refreshing. Her dancing, singing, and stage presence is truly breathtaking.
Lukas James Miller plays the Prince who now has a modern name, "Topher". He enters slaying a very out of place giant bug- looking puppet with his knights and chief advisor Sebastian (Christopher Swan). So, he is a Prince that can slay dragons, battle giants, and take down whatever odd creature, but he is oblivious to the villainous Sebastian and the problems in his kingdom. Miller opens with the musical number "Me, Who Am I," at which point the audience learns that the Prince is yearning to do something more with his life than just slay giants. While Miller is equipped with spot-on comedic timing, but his vocals were disappointing at the performance I attended. However, his vocals were a disappointment for the role of Topher the Prince. One would reasonably expect an actor in this role to have a very grand, powerful, and proper sounding voice - especially to put over "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful." Unfortunately, Miller's voice often seemed too weak for the role and he often seemed to back off on the higher notes.
The stepsisters in this production are not exactly what one would expect if you are familiar with other versions of the story. The daintier stepsister, Gabrielle (Natalie Girard) is more sympathetic towards Ella and realizes how terrible her Mother Madame (Sarah Smith) treats her. Gabrielle is not interested in the Prince, but is more interested in a new character, an outspoken political activist named Jean-Michel (Nic Casaula).
As the other stepsister Charlotte, Joanna Johnson who certainly makes the most of the comedic moments and entertains like you might expect. Johnson, along with the Ladies of Court, gives an entertaining performance of "Stepsister's Lament." Girard, Smith, Johnson, and Mayse also give memorable performances of "When You're Driving Through the Moonlight" and "A Lovely Night."
Zina Ellis as Marie/The Fairy Godmother showcases some powerful and magnificent vocals in numbers such as "Impossible," "There's Music in You," and "It's Possible." Ellis' stage presence is purely intoxicating.
Carlos Morales delivers some very memorable vocals as Lord Pinkleton. Christopher Swan steals the spotlight as the villainous Sebastian, especially thanks to his impeccable line delivery. The rest of the supporting ensemble delivers some truly breathtaking choreography featuring twirling, flips, spins, and more. In part thanks to the majestic costumes, the ensemble numbers truly dazzle.
The visual appeal of this production is top notch. There were a few sound issues that plagued the performance on the evening I attended, but they should work out as the run progresses. Rodgers and Hammerstein's music and lyrics are show-stopping and the cast certainly delivers them well. Is this the 1957 musical starring Julie Andrews? No. Is it even the Wonderful World of Disney movie starring Brandy and Whitney Houston? No. Is it the Disney film? Absolutely not. It is a new modern production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella where politics take center stage in the love story between Ella and Topher.
Running time: Approximately two hours and fifteen minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella runs through February 17, 2019 at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York as part of the Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series, Broadway in Syracuse. For tickets and information on the tour of Cinderella, click here. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions in the Famous Artists Broadway Theater Series Broadway in Syracuse, click here.