BWW Review: A Lovely Night! Rodgers And Hammerstein's CINDERELLA Is Must-See Musical Magic At The McCallum!
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is sumptuous and fanciful and bursting with all of the ingredients necessary to make up the perfect "family musical". The score is timeless and emotionally stirring. The costumes and scenic elements are candy for the eyes. The dancing ensemble is impeccable and the choreography is energetic and intoxicating. And, though this has not always been the case in recent touring musicals, the cast is superb. I do, however, wish to reiterate "family musical". It is definitively a five star version of children's theatre (complete with hand puppets representing the woodland creatures that befriend Cinderella and help make her dreams a reality) and, despite the modern wit liberally inserted by book writer Douglas Carter Bean, is not likely a wholly satisfying evening for a grown up audience unaccompanied by little ones. There are two or three "grown up laughs" in the entire evening - the balance is really for the children. And, in that spirit. I highly recommend scooping up your children, grandchildren or neighbor's children and rushing to the McCallum Box Office to snatch up the last remaining tickets for this musical flight of fantasy.
Though some might deem this musical "old fashioned" there is simply nothing as exhilarating as a Richard Rodgers score perfectly matched with the simplicity of Oscar Hammerstein's nuanced lyrics. The only things that detracts in this case is that, because the original Cinderella was written as an hour long telecast, it is light on the lyrics (every song generally has one set of lyrics, AABA, without new verses) and so, to add time and flesh out production, verses are repeated and it seems to stall the story rather than move it forward. But the melodies are ever glorious.
The cast is outstanding. Tatyana Lubov's "Ella" hits all of the right notes - from both a dramatic and vocal standpoint. Her voice is impeccable and she strikes just the right balance between the vulnerable country bumpkin and the strong "princess within". She has the vocal quality of any of the finest voices on Broadway today and the presence to reach to the back of the house while being ever genuine and believable. Louis Griffin delivers an exquisitely comedic turn as the young Prince Topher. He, too, is in superb voice and the richness of his "Loneliness Of The Evening" is a musical highlight. The Step-family (Sarah Smith, Nicole Zelka and Joanna Johnson) are appropriately brash and boisterous and Christopher Swan's "Sebastian" is the consummate fairy-tale villiain (albeit the trajectory of his character arc makes no sense - if that even matters in a children's musical). But the standout performance in this production is Leslie Jackson as Marie, who turns out to be Ella's Fairy Godmother. There is no better superlative to describe the quality of her voice than "thrilling", and she thrills at every turn. Jackson takes the most nonsensical and "throw away" songs in the score and expertly turns them, like fairy tale magic, into musical gems.
The ensemble is terrific! Their dance and vocal caliber is tremendous and the production numbers are all expertly executed. William Ivey Long's Tony-winning costumes are spectacular and surprising. The magical wardrobe elements are delightful and dazzling and even when the "gimmick" of the costume change was obvious, it was nonetheless great fun to watch. Kudos, also, to Kevin Steinberg's sound design which not only fully supported, but artistically enhanced, this production.
The only real negative I have with this Cinderella is the new book by Douglas Carter Beane. While I appreciate the desire to make Cinderella a full-fledged, two-act musical, the new plot and character additions detract from the magic of the original story rather than enhancing it. The additions of the sub-plots involving Jean-Michel and his fight for rights for the common people and his awkward romance with Ella's step-sister Gabrielle seem contrived and void of anything fresh and new. They actually felt as though they had been lifted out of other musicals I had seen many times before and dropped into the Cinderella story merely to add time and weight to the musical. Their conclusions were hurried, unsatisfying and predictable. I think a far better choice would have been to further develop the Cinderella story with an unexpected twist or two and be satisfied with a 90 minute one act musical. All of the magic lies within the Cinderella story and all else was unnecessary and superfluous. Even Jean-Michel's song "Now Is The Time" fell flat and felt totally out of the balance of the score. Carter Beane's modern witticisms successfully garnered laughs but also created an unsettling imbalance between the characters being "in the story" and "looking in on the story" with a wink and a nod. The addition of a second "banquet" (because Cinderella takes her shoe with her on the first midnight) was anticlimactic -- all the chemistry of the first night had waned and the sparks the "second time around" were less than magic. I found the book to be flawed on multiple counts and truly the musical's "weakest link".
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella couldn't arrive at The McCallum at a better time of the year - it is at the perfect, feel-good kick off to a joyful holiday season. If you can find a child to accompany you the the theatre, or maybe just find the child in you for few hours, you won't be disappointed. I wholeheartedly encourage you to add Cinderella to your itinerary before it leaves The McCallum next Tuesday. Like The Nutcracker Ballet, it truly is "must see" for the holidays. For tickets or further information visit www.mccallumtheatre.com or call the box office at (760) 340-2787.