The Broadway tour of Rodgers + Hammerstein's "Cinderella" isn't your father's fairy tale. It's more like your cousin's who watches MSNBC and pines for those Occupy Wall Street marches of yore.
Our heroine is more determined, and feisty, than past incarnations. Her quest to woo the man of her dreams comes packaged with a yearn to right the wrongs in the kingdom. The tension between the rich and the poor is like a new character who never leaves the stage.
Yet the touring production pulls some progressive punches. The show can’t demonize the rich too much when the personification of wealth is swooning over our would-be princess.
The structure of the show remains intact even though the book underwent significant tweaking for the 2013 Broadway edition. Once more poor, plain-spoken Ella (Paige Faure) toils away for her wicked stepmother (Beth Glover) and two snotty half-sisters (Aymee Garcia, Kaitlyn Davidson, both excellent).
Ella’s life changes when her kindness beckons her fairy godmother (Kecia Lewis), setting the story’s magical pumpkins, slippers and gowns in motion.
Our Ella meets her handsome prince (Andy Lewis, as sensitive as Alan Alda) but can two people from wildly different social classes live happily ever after?
That’s a question on the mind of Jean-Michel (David Andino), the local firebrand sore at how the prince’s government steals from the poor. Jean-Michel’s speeches inspire Ella not simply to fall in love, but make her man have a democratic change of heart.
The only thing missing is a mic check.
Thoroughly Modern Ella
“Cinderella” understands today’s audiences might not flock to a show rooted in the past. We want our heroines to be more proactive, more in control of their lives. Ella’s determination takes care of that, but the anachronistic flourishes often butt heads with the story’s roots. It’s one thing to acknowledge social progress, another to insert laugh lines that will feel dated in a few years. Maybe less.
The story’s socialist bona fides never go too far or strangle the romance. We’re also never told how the prince is stealing land from the poor, a nagging point better left to pundits unwilling to acknowledge the production’s cheery tone.
And oh, is it cheery, and wondrous, with its evocative sets, classic songs and ebullient cast. Faure and Jones are adorable on stage, flashing real chemistry despite the show’s dusty plot devices. The production’s second act could stand a nip and tuck, but the romantic momentum never slows down.
Standout numbers include “In My Own Little Corner” and “Ten Minutes Ago,” but the songs in general have aged beautifully. The same can be said of Cinderella as a role model, witness the array of tiaras worn by little girls in the packed Buell Theatre.
“Cinderella” proves post-modern snark must be ladled on with care, but timeless stories will win our hearts every time.
DID YOU KNOW: The incomparable team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein have collected two Pulitzer Prizes and 35 Tony, 15 Oscars, two Grammy and two Emmy Awards.