From fairy tales to literary masterpieces, the classics stand up to multiple interpretations, allowing generations of artists to put their own spins on familiar stories. "Cinderella" is one of those welcoming, creativity-inspiring tales.
Even French author Charles Perrault was interpreting in 1697 when he wrote "Cendrillon," a story based on a host of "Cinderella"-like tales. But it was he who added the now-familiar pumpkin coach, fairy godmother and glass slippers, so props to Perrault.
Broadway greats Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II took on "Cinderella" in 1957, writing their only made-for-TV musical with Julie Andrews playing the bullied beauty who captures the heart of a prince. Lesley Ann Warren donned the glass slippers in 1965 for a TV remake, and Brandy did so in 1997 (with Whitney Houston as her big-voiced Fairy Godmother). In 2013, the musical found its natural home: Broadway.
"Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella," now making a holiday stop at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, is yet another creative interpretation of the Cinderella story. The show retains Rodgers and Hammerstein's glorious score, including the well-known songs "In My Own Little Corner," "Impossible," "Ten Minutes Ago," "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" and "A Lovely Night."
But it acquired a new book by multiple Tony Award nominee Douglas Carter Beane, whose credits include the books for "Sister Act" and "Xanadu" as well as the plays "As Bees in Honey Drown," "The Little Dog Laughed" and "The Nance." Beane's witty, playful script makes all the difference for a 21st century audience, as it introduces sly political commentary, droll lines and villains who are more comic than cruel. Kids love it, but adults do, too.
The other creative wizard responsible for so many of the pleasures of "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" is William Ivey Long, who won a Tony Award for his wildly colorful costumes, some gorgeous, others deliberate jokes made of fabric. In several instances, Long's work creates the magic in the show, instantly transforming the rag-clad beggar woman Marie (Leslie Jackson) into a stunning Fairy Godmother, as well as doing a presto change-o on Ella (Tatyana Lubov), who sheds her peasant garb for a billowing white gown.
With direction by Gina Rattan (based on Mark Brokaw's original staging) and choreography by Lee Wilkins (based on Josh Rhodes' original work), this non-Equity tour also features the designs of Long's Broadway collaborators Anna Louizos (sets), Kenneth Posner (lighting), Nevin Steinberg (sound) and Paul Huntley (hair and wigs). The show's storybook look is part of its charm.
Overall, the cast isn't as strong as the one that played Miami's Arsht Center two years ago, but still, this company serves the music and the comedy well. Lubov makes for a winsome, sweet-voiced Ella (aka Cinderella). Hayden Stanes plays the handsome, naive and slightly goofy Prince Topher. Their duets on "Ten Minutes Ago," "Loneliness of the Evening" and especially "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" are things of shimmering beauty.
The two operatically trained cast members — Jackson as Marie/Fairy Godmother and Vincent B. Davis as the herald Lord Pinkleton — are the company's vocal standouts. Sarah Primmer as the stepmother Madame, Mimi Robinson as stepsister Gabrielle and Joanna Johnson as stepsister Charlotte are a deft comic trio, and their quartet with Ella on "A Lovely Night" has a kind of retro Andrews Sisters vibe. Ryan M. Hunt as Topher's scheming advisor Sebastian and Chris Woods as the Gabrielle-smitten agitator Jean-Michel effectively round out the principals.
Most folks are beyond busy over the holidays, but sometimes, an entertaining respite is the best gift of all. "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" is a family-friendly choice, one made far more delightful by the work of Beane and Long.
"Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" will run through Dec. 25 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (additional matinee 2 p.m. Dec. 21, 1 p.m. performance only on Dec. 24). Tickets cost $35 to $95. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.