Chicago Theatre Review
The Shoe Fits!
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella – Broadway in Chicago
Chicago area little girls will be polishing their glass slippers and heading into the Loop for this marvelous, magical, musical production. Charles Perrault’s beloved 17th century fairy tale became a classic animated Disney film back in 1950. Then, in 1957, CBS commissioned the legendary theatrical team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein to create a television musical to star Julie Andrews. It drew a huge audience and was remade in 1967, starring Lesley Ann Warren, and again thirty years later, with Brandy in the title role and featuring Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother. The television screenplay was soon adapted for the stage providing regional, educational and community theatres the opportunity to produce this R&H musical. Various other incarnations of the musical found their way to the stage, but when it was discussed as a possible Broadway vehicle in 2013, a decision was made to hire Tony nominee playwright Douglas Carter Beane to overhaul the script.
With so much critical acclaim for Beane’s previous theatrical work, such as “Xanadu” and “The Little Dog Laughed,” his new script for this familiar fairy tale musical was much anticipated. Ironically, this is the shakiest element of this new production. True, the playwright does provide some fresh spunk and sassiness in his updated dialogue and, despite several minor plot and character changes, the scullery maid still magically manages to meet and wed her prince charming. It’s just that all the political correctness in this new version feels out of place in a family fairy tale.
Fortunately, unlike the original New York production, this Equity tour overflows with energy, is tightly directed by Mark Brokaw, choreographed brilliantly by Josh Rhodes and features a topnotch young cast, eager to please. The technical magic is the same here but it now looks fresher. Because it’s such a smooth production, audiences may forget and forgive the strange changes in the book and revel in the romance of the story and music. This National Tour is actually a much finer crafted production than on Broadway.
Opening night, when Ella danced off into the wings near the beginning of Act I, poor, apparently flu-stricken leading lady Paige Faure disappeared and was instantly replaced by her understudy, lovely Audrey Cardwell. The transfer was seamless and practically went unnoticed. This young actress radiates positivity and happiness, sings like a meadowlark and dances beautifully with grace and style. The chemistry between Ms. Cardwell and handsome, talented Andy Jones, as Prince Topher, is palpable; this Cinderella actually looked like she was having a really great time at the ball, and who could blame her? Songs like “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” are sung and acted with honesty by this winning team of Cardwell and Jones.
Beth Glover makes a stylish, if catty, stepmother. Her Madame is glamorous, while still being a force with whom to be reckoned. Her “real daughters,” as she calls them, are played to perfection by Aymee Garcia and Ashley Park. A wonderful comedian, Ms. Garcia is particularly excellent in her “Stepsister’s Lament,” joined by a shoe-waving ensemble of court ladies. Kecia Lewis is impressive and maternal as Crazy Marie, the homeless woman Cinderella befriends who becomes, in a burst of theatrical magic, the girl’s Fairy Godmother. Broadway character actor Blake Hammond makes a nasty Sebastian, Prince Topher’s controlling Prime Minister, and Antoine L. Smith continually impresses as singing town crier, Lord Pinkleton.
One of the stars of this production is William Ivey Long’s Tony Award-winning costumes. They’re gloriously colorful and each is individually styled and intricately detailed in silk, satin and brocade. Then, just when the audience gets used to some of them they magically transform into entirely different costumes. Anna Louizo’s lovely, fairy tale scenic design is textured and rich. Her sets include a magical forest, complete with fearsome creatures and snuggly animals, and a storybook house for Ella and her stepfamily that actually opens up to reveal a comfy interior. The palace is simple but sumptuous and as many-faceted as its inhabitants. The real magic occurs, however, when a pumpkin and cage of mice transform into a golden coach, that’s awesome and breathtaking.
With expert direction by Mark Brokaw, a cast that outshines the new script and lavish choreography and technical support that makes jaws drop, this family-friendly confection is a great chance for mothers and daughters to reconnect with their inner princesses. An excellent National Tour that offers so much joy and magic is rare and well-appreciated, especially during the holiday season. Theatergoers will certainly get their money’s worth of entertainment in this production, enough happiness to fill a dozen pair of glass slippers.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 17-January 4 by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago.
Tickets are available at all BIC Box Offices, at the BIC Ticket Line at 800-775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and at www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.