If you fondly remember Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella as a sugary musical television production with Lesley Ann Warren performing in the title role, the updated version of the show for Broadway may just give you a little jolt. All your favorites are still there – Impossible things happen every day, and Cinderella still sits in her own little corner on her own little stool – but being whatever she wants to be has taken a decidedly modern turn. The Broadway production that’s now touring the country (currently in Los Angeles, and moving to San Francisco at the start of May) ironically owes its updated story to the writer’s decision to unearth the original version of the fairy tale, written in 1697.
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Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the original production of Cinderella for television. It first aired in 1957, starring a 21-year-old Julie Andrews in the title role. The version most familiar to today’s parents and grandparents, starring Lesley Anne Warren, aired in 1965 and became an annual tradition for many families. Hammerstein’s intent was to expand the book and produce the show on Broadway, but he died before that happened. Since then, various versions of the play have cropped up on stages around the country – and on television – but it took a confluence of circumstances to fulfill Hammerstein’s dream of bringing Cinderella to Broadway in 2013, and it almost didn’t happen at all.
As playwright Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the book for Broadway’s Cinderella, tells the story, his first instinct was to turn down the chance to update Cinderella for modern Broadway audiences. Like many who grew up with the versions made in the 1950s and 1960s, his impression of Cinderella was that it was a “someday my prince will come” story, where the heroine is rescued from a life of drudgery by a handsome prince and a healthy sprinkling of fairy godmother magic. He was curious enough to look at the original production, though, and then to seek out the original Charles Perrault fairy tale on which it was based. What he found was a whole other story that had been left out of modern retellings entirely.
“If I just told the French story of what happened,” Beane told a San Antonio Express reporter, “people would think it was the most radical story.”
And so he did.
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The version of Cinderella that debuted on Broadway in 2013 is a story with a message. Rather than it being the tale of a beautiful but poor young girl who is swept away by a handsome prince, it’s the tale of two lost people who find each other, and in doing so, find themselves as well. Underlying nuances that are only hinted at in the Rodgers and Hammerstein book find their way to center stage in the Broadway production. In the 1965 television, show, for example, the king and queen have a brief conversation about their brooding son, but it’s never quite clear why he’s in no hurry to marry. Beane gives all of the characters more depth, and reinstates the original moral of the story – how Cinderella wins over the prince and the entire court, not with her beauty, but with her kindness and charm.
If you’ve sworn off Cinderella stories because you think it teaches bad lessons about waiting for Prince Charming, the Broadway Cinderella production will make you fall in love with the magical fairy tale all over again. This is not your grandmother’s Cinderella. She’s so much stronger and more resilient, which makes her all the more lovable.
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