Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.
This holiday season, I entered a packed Ed Mirvish Theatre, full of couples, families, groups of friends, young, old, boys in suits, and girls in princess dresses, for a performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s Cinderella. As Cinderella sings after the ball, it was “a lovely night.” If you’re looking for a groundbreaking, thought-provoking piece of theatre, this isn’t it. But Cinderella delivers what it promises: a fun, beautiful and cheerful experience for the whole family.
This production is one of several versions of the 1957 made-for-TV movie that launched the incomparable Julie Andrews’ career. If you were a child in the 90s, you’re probably more familiar with the 1997 version featuring Brandy and Whitney Houston (among others). Both versions offer beautiful music (in the style of Rodger’s and Hammerstein) and a comforting story, but definitely require the audience to suspend its disbelief and embrace the cheesiness. I for one love to see Julie Andrews and her prince staring into each other’s eyes for an awkwardly long time while singing “Ten Minutes Ago,” or Bernadette Peters hamming it up as the wicked stepmother.
If these treats don’t appeal to you, then this may not be your kind of show. That’s not to say that this production is exactly the same as the original. This tour was, in fact, launched from the 2013 Broadway premiere, featuring a new book by Douglas Carter Beane. It’s pretty clear that the new version was written to appeal to modern audiences who no longer have patience for female leads whose lives revolve around bagging the prince. I won’t spoil everything, but the plot includes a new character who is seeking to bring justice (read “democracy”) to the kingdom, cuts out Prince Topher’s parents, and offers a twist on the most famous aspect of the story. If at all possible, this new book is even cheesier than the original, but I enjoyed the changes. I loved seeing something new, and appreciated the substitution of “work to make the world a better place” for an original moral of the story, which runs along the lines of “wish for something really hard, and you will find a rich, handsome prince to marry.”
Having said this, I still find some of the messages a little bit concerning. For example, while one of the stepsisters is made more sympathetic, both are still portrayed as ugly as compared to the beautiful heroine, and one of them still sings the cringe-inducing “Stepsister’s Lament.” Even if the implication is that the prince is repelled by the sister’s personality far more than her looks, I have a lot of trouble with a character larger than Cinderella singing lines like “Why would a fellow want a girl like her?/ A frail and fluffy beauty?/ Why can’t a fellow ever once prefer/ A solid girl like me?” The blocking, in which other women surround the sister, agreeing with her and taking off their painful heels, may be intended to undercut the old-fashioned lyrics, but I don’t think it succeeds.
On the positive side, the costumes and set design are absolutely beautiful. While the fairy godmother’s quick change is a little underwhelming, both of Cinderella’s are impossibly clever and receive applause from the audience. The performances are also solid, with beautiful voices and impressive dancing. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and came away humming “Ten Minutes Ago” and wishing for a ball to attend.
Sadly, Cinderella is only running until January 10th, but there’s still time to grab tickets and enjoy a lovely night for the whole family before the ball moves on to its next city.
News You Can Use
What: Cinderella by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II; new book by Douglas Carter Beane; direction by Mark Brokaw; choreography by Josh Rhodes
Who: Audiences 5 years of age and up
When: Running until January 10, 2016
Where: Ed Mirvish Theatre (formerly The Canon), 244 Victoria Street, Toronto, ON, M5B 1V8
Cool to know: Education Guide for parents, teachers and students
© 2016 Natalie Dewan, Sesaya