Speed Dating ‘Cinderella’ Style
By Isa Goldberg
Douglas Carter Beane’s updated book of "Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella" blends television style romantic comedy with Disney-like theatrics. Love conquers all, but not without unleashing the dreadful monsters lurking all around, not to speak of, within.
Indeed, Santino Fontana’s Prince, a much-sedated version of Hamlet, queries his existence in the comic solo "Me, Who Am I?". An ordinary guy, just out of college and with too much royal privilege, he finds that everything comes too easily. Slaying monsters and being a superhero without even thinking – one fears that he’ll throw the likes of Hugh Jackman into retirement. Of course, that idea is a bit ridiculous, but for that matter, so is his speed dating with a woman who is constantly slipping away.
In fact, Cinderella arrives at the ball ostensibly to warn the Prince about political corruption within the court. So when she, a smart woman albeit of low breeding, and the Prince, an earnest royal trapped in an old regime finally come together, it fulfills a tantalizing fantasy. Still, Beane’s self-conscious take off on the fairy tale, his parody of formulaic screwball comedies, falls short of his buzz-worthy ingenuity in such early works as "The Little Dog Laughed" or "As Bees in Honey Drown."
The joys of this production lie primarily in the classic songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein, especially "Impossible," a duet with Cinderella (Laura Osnes) and her fairy godmother (Victoria Clark). Osnes, an actress who has grown remarkably from her early role in "Grease" to a more mature character in "Anything Goes" proves again what a fine, endearing singer she is. Her Cinderella is smooth and graceful. And while she’s not slathering in romance, there is something of a saccharine edge to the up and coming princess. In spite of its politicizing – Cinderella is a self-actualized woman who leaves the slipper for the Prince – one senses that she, and this story, are inevitably talking down to us.
The true inspiration here is Victoria Clark. In virtuoso style, she thrills us with a heavenly falsetto and wakens us with earthly comedic insight, all while transforming the ordinary into the fantastic. Similarly, Harriet Harris, as Cinderella’s wicked stepmother is awfully quirky and thoughtlessly hateful, true to her signature style. As in "Thoroughly Modern Milly" Harris proves her actorly wiles, portraying a selfish, evil woman with glittering delight.
In supporting roles, Greg Hildreth as the supposedly virile but chubby revolutionary Jean-Michel, copes as well as he can with comedic lines that fall short. As Jean Michel’s romantic attachment, Cinderella’s sister (Marla Mindelle) with her gawky looks and oversized wire rim eyeglasses, proves an unexpected ally in deception to her disheartened stepsister. Still, Ann Harada, who played a surprising unconventional romantic character in "Avenue Q," is simply agitating as Cinderella’s sibling, disgracefully clawing at the Prince, the charming understated Santino Fantana.
Director Mark Brokaw lands the production somewhere between fantasy and reality without fulfilling either dimension. Josh Rhodes choreography mines the comedy of the romantic scenes, and the swirl of the ball, while Anna Louizos sets – plastic trees and downscaled palaces are disappointingly ordinary. But William Ivey Long’s gregarious colorful gowns underline the play’s adage, "You’d be surprised how many beautiful gowns have crazy women in them."
This "Cinderella" may be cast in modern terms, but the sentiment still reveals a retro 50’s turn of mind that is not necessarily uplifting about women of our time.
"Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella" is at the Broadway Theatre (1681 Broadway at 53rd St.) For tickets call Telecharge at 212-239-6200, visit www.telecharge.com or go to the box office. Photos Carol Rosegg
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