On Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Featuring Whoopi Goldberg (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ghost, Sister Act film series, The View), Whitney Houston (Waiting to Exhale), and Victor Garber (Sleepless in Seattle, Legally Blonde), Roger & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a romantic musical fantasy telefilm produced by Walt Disney Television with a multi-racial, color-blind cast.

It is also a remake of the CBS live 1957 television broadcast featuring Julie Andrews as Cinderella.

Notably, the amazing and fantastic Bernadette Peters, the premier interpreter of Stephen Soundheim, appears in the film as Cinderella’s stepmother.

According to the Dear Author article, “Friday Film Review: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella“:

If, like me, you are of a certain age and watched US TV, you probably grew up watching the 1965 version of Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” Before VHS tapes or DVDs the only way to see it was the annual TV broadcast. Every year I’d eagerly anticipate it, sit entranced during it and then feel let down that I had to wait another year before seeing it again. Not anymore though thanks to modern technology and youtube! Now I can listen to “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” “Ten Minutes Ago,” “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible,” the Gavotte, “Stepsisters’ Lament” and “A Lovely Night” any time I want.

In these versions of the story, they stick pretty much to the basic rendition of the classic fairy tale. Sweet and kind Cinderella slaves away for her selfish stepmother and stepsisters – cooking, cleaning, sewing, ironing and whatever else they demand all while escaping in her imagination “in her own little corner in her own little chair.”

Meanwhile the Prince returns after a year of dragon slaying, princess saving and vanquishing magicians but still hasn’t found a woman he loves. In order to goose him into doing his duty, his doting parents decide to host a ball so he can hopefully find a bride. As announced to the country “His Royal Highness Christopher Rupert Windimere Vladimir Earl Alexander Francois Reginald Lancelot Herman…” “Herman?!” “Herman! Gregory James” is giving a ball.

The stepmother and stepsisters, along with all other women between the ages of 16 and 60, head off on the night of the ball leaving poor Cinderella to dream and wish of going herself. Her wishes are answered when her Fairy Godmother arrives, waves a magic wand and transforms a pumpkin into a golden carriage, mice into horses, rats into a coachman and footman and Cinderella’s rags into a beautiful dress and glass slippers. Off she goes to enjoy herself with the warning ringing in her ears to be gone by the stroke of midnight.

While at the ball, she dazzles the Prince and the whole ballroom of people watch as the two dance and fall in love. But heedful of the time, she dashes off as the clock strikes 12 leaving only one glass slipper behind. The distraught prince vows to find her then, along with a long suffering herald he heads off to try the slipper on every maiden in the kingdom.

Finally after countless feet, they arrive at the cottage where the simpering stepsisters fail to shove their feet into the shoe. About to leave, the Prince sees Cinderella, gives the slipper one last fitting and finds his love.

The version I grew up with is the 1965 Lesley Anne Warren one. By the time Whitney Houston and Brandy redid it in 1997, I thought I was past watching fairy tales and so never sought it out. And to my chagrin, I didn’t even realize until recently that Julie Andrews was the first Cinderella in 1957. After a whirlwind tour of the different presentations, I have to say that the all have their pluses and minuses.

For the most part, the scripts and songs are the same. A few differences I noticed are the 6 minute overture start to the 1965 one plus a song sung by the Prince at the start which is haunting as he yearns to find his true love. In 1957, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother is someone she’s known for years and it’s Cinderella’s idea to use the pumpkin and mice. While in 1997, the dance numbers are longer, they add some songs from other R&H productions, the Prince’s herald has a much larger role and the cast is multiracial.

The 1957 broadcast was live, shown in black and white, and presented on a real Broadway stage. The picture is a bit grainy but the sound is actually pretty good and what they were able to accomplish in the small amount of space they had is amazing. Most of the vocal talent is good while Julie Andrews is, of course, simply wonderful to listen to. I did laugh as the FG wields her wand like a Texas baton twirler and there are two goofs done by the actor playing the Prince. But overall, this one is worth seeking out if only for Andrews’ voice.

By 1965 color had arrived on TV but the simplistic sets still seem based on a stage play. The costumes have this pseudo-medieval feeling going complete with horned headdresses for the ball. Oi. Lesley Anne Warren seems very young compared to everyone else and her wide-eyed portrayal ends up making her look more goofy to me than I remember. While the vocal talent is fairly even, it’s also fairly mediocre with the surprising exception of Stuart Damon as the Prince. The ball sequences still make me smile though as I watch Cinderella’s lovely – if heavy – dress swirl as she dances with her prince.

For the 1997 edition things really got jazzed up. The fantastic sets are something out of Disney meets Mackenzie Childs and are drenched in color. After watching the ‘making of’ featurette, I see that the cast fell in love with them as quickly as I did. The vocal talents of Houston and Bernadette Peters as the stepmother are outstanding which makes me wish that the rest of the cast were nearly as good. I love the message that Cinderella is worthy besides just having a beautiful face, dress and access to a FG. But the aspect of this version that really makes it for me is the multiracial cast selection. After all, if you’re willing to believe in pumpkins becoming carriages and mice getting turned into horses, what’s the stretch to a Caucasian King and an African American Queen having a Filipino son?

While none of the three variations are flawless for me, I did enjoy watching them all. The 1957 and 1997 ones are readily available on DVD and youtube. The challenge is finding the 1965 edition as the DVD is OOP. There are fairly cheap used VHS tapes to be had though the prices for the used DVDs are steep. The sheer number of times this musical has been redone is testament to its popularity and I found myself singing along with old favorite songs. I’ve also had fun mentally regrouping the various actors and elements from all three to create my perfect version. Give them all a try and see which one works best for you.

 

According to The New York Times review:

As Disney’s Cinderella for the 90’s, Brandy is amazingly good. She wanders the streets of her village, singing ”The sweetest sounds I’ll ever hear/Are still inside my head,” with the longing of a dreamy adolescent and the musical control of a Broadway trouper. She goes to the ball looking less like a princess than a suburban prom queen, with ringlets and too much blue eye shadow, yet captivates the Prince with her guileless manner. And after the ball, she tells her dead father why she must leave her stepmother’s house. ”I deserve better, Father,” she says, with a sincerity that rescues the pop-psychology dialogue. ”I deserve to be loved.” Of course, before she can set off on her own, the Prince arrives with the glass slipper and the happy ending. Some things never change.

One of those things, unfortunately, is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ”Cinderella,” originally created as a television special starring Julie Andrews in 1957. In fairy tale terms, the musical was always a pumpkin that never turned into a glittering coach, despite large audiences for the original and for the often-shown 1965 version with Lesley Ann Warren.

The songs are lesser Rodgers and Hammerstein; there’s a reason the saccharine ”Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” is not as familiar as ”Oklahoma.” And the book offers a flat-footed telling of the Cinderella story, with no cute cartoon mice or outsize villains to leap off the screen.

This new, big-budget version practically pummels the old one into better shape. The starry cast includes Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, Bernadette Peters as the Wicked Stepmother and Whoopi Goldberg as Queen Constantina, the Prince’s mother. Combining Broadway pizazz with a traditional storybook look, the remake also adds three better Rodgers songs not written for ”Cinderella” (including ”The Sweetest Sounds”). And the new version has a social conscience, with a multiracial cast and a feminist twist. But it doesn’t take that final leap into pure magic. Often charming and sometimes ordinary, this is a cobbled-together ”Cinderella” for the moment, not the ages.

The matter-of-fact racial casting works so smoothly that it becomes one of the show’s happiest effects. There is no cause to wonder why one stepsister is black and one white. The entire kingdom is blissfully multiethnic, with a black queen in Ms. Goldberg, a white king in Victor Garber and the Philippine-born Paolo Montalban as their son. (The fact that this racial utopia exists in a fairy tale only emphasizes its distance from reality.)

The feminist touches are clumsier. ”You didn’t need my help, you just thought you did,” says the Fairy Godmother, sounding more like the Wizard of Oz. ”Believe in yourself, Cinderella.” Ms. Houston, who is also an executive producer, is disappointing, her performance as stiff as the rigid column of a dress she is poured into. Her big song, ”Impossible,” is a ditty that wastes the gifts of her powerful voice.

Mr. Montalban has an old-fashioned luxurious voice and a down-to-earth manner that makes him the ideal Prince for Brandy’s Cinderella. As they sing ”The Sweetest Sounds,” each unaware of the other’s presence, it becomes a stunning romantic duet. Jason Alexander provides comic relief as Lionel, the Prince’s right hand. And Ms. Goldberg winningly blends royal dignity with motherly meddling.

Ms. Peters brings vigor and sly comedy to the Stepmother. But her song, Rodgers and Hart’s ”Falling in Love With Love,” is crammed into the show. Her colorful house brings to mind Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Yet the ball itself is strangely dull, costumed in drab midnight blues to contrast Cinderella’s powder blue gown.

Though mice turn into coachmen, this ”Cinderella” uses special effects sparingly. It emphasizes the inner magic of character, self-reliance and love, and sacrifices some of its fairy dust along the way.

 

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2 thoughts on “On Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Charmed: Season 4 | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: On Stardust | The Progressive Democrat

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