It’s the final week of the school holidays and if you, a parent or guardian, haven’t taken your kid/s to the theatre yet – Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is the musical for you! Now, I’m not saying childless adults can’t/won’t enjoy it too, but it’s very much aimed at a younger audience. Let me explain why.
Cinderella is based upon the folk/fairy tale of the same name (also known as The Little Glass Slipper), particularly the 1697 French version Cendrillon, ou la petite pantoufle de verre by author Charles Perrault. It was later played on stage with music by Rodgers and a book and lyrics by Hammerstein.
While its source material dates back to before Christ, with thousands of variants over the years, this new production puts a contemporary take on the classic tale, following the later reworkings by Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote a new book for the musical’s first Broadway production in 2013.
In line with the original hallmarks of Ella/Cinderella (Shubshri Kandiah) living in servitude under with her stepmother, Madame, (Tina Bursill) and stepsisters, Charlotte (Bianca Bruce) and Gabrielle (Matilda Moran), in this new plot, Ella also seeks to open Prince Topher’s (Ainsley Melham) eyes to the injustice in the kingdom. There’s also the addition of new character, the rebellious Jean-Michel (Josh Gardiner), who seeks to overthrow the government and win the hand of Gabrielle.
Supporting characters include the Prince’s Lord Chancellor, Sebastian (Todd McKenney), Marie the fairy godmother (Silvie Paladino), Lord Pinkleton (Daniel Belle), and an ensemble of 18.
This production doesn’t stray as far as the 2021 movie adaptation starring Camila Cabello, Billy Porter and Idina Menzel did, nor is it as dark as he Stephen Sondheim musical, Into The Woods. In fact, none of the characters are overly wicked. While some characters do do some questionable things, such as Madame disowning her daughter, for example, there’s no real villain in sight.
The production doesn’t seem to know quiet what it wants to be. Despite the changes, which do help create intrigue and depth to an overall simple love story, the core themes have been altered so drastically that it becomes something more political with a vague-ish, unclear point to make.
On a more positive note, the cast, costumes (William Ivey Long), costume transformations and choreography (Josh Rhodes) are dazzling, while the set design (Anna Louizos) often mirrors that of an amateur school production, not worthy of a grand theatre like the Regent. Its strength lies in its performances by the highly experienced cast as well as the chemistry between the two leads.
Credit must be given too to Belle, whose bellowing voice resonated beautifully throughout the theatre as well as McKenney who, as always, is at his show stealing best. Kandiah and Melham also give dimension to their roles. There’s some nice prop work too, especially the stunning carriage.
Although the musical numbers are quite good, none are overly memorable either – so while you may leave the theatre momentarily fooled by the slick glitz and glamour of the production, it’s overall unlikely to leave a long-lasting impression, unless seen through the eyes of a child. The production is lacking a big musical number it so desperately needs to elevate it to that higher level.
If I was to sum up Cinderella in one word, it would be pleasant. It’s the perfect gentle introduction into musical theatre, but some adults may be left wanting a little bit more, dare I say it, magic.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’ Cinderella – The Musical leaves Melbourne on July 23, before heading to Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre, QPAC, from August and the Sydney Lyric Theatre in October.
Head to Cinderella Musical for more information.