Originally commissioned as a 1957 television musical starring Julie Andrews and adapted for the Broadway stage in 2013, the national tour of the Tony® Award-winning musical of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella made its grand Montreal premiere on Tuesday, October 18th, 2016. Presented by Broadway Across Canada and evenko, the production plays at Place des Arts’ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier for 8 performances, ending its limited engagement run on Sunday, October 23rd.
Featuring music from the legendary composers of The King & I and The Sound of Music, the visiting production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a modernized reimagining of the classic fairy tale that tells the story of a downtrodden housemaid’s romance with a lovestruck prince. She goes by Ella (played with great endearment and grace by Tatyana Lubov), he goes by Topher (portrayed by a towering Hayden Stanes, who is as charming as they get), and together they fight for all things good and right in a cruel and corrupt kingdom.
“In her own little corner, in her own little chair”, the lonesome but resilient Ella sings and dreams of an escape from the reins of her callous, gold-digging stepmother Madame (brought to life by Sarah Primmer). The two stepsister figures have likewise leapt off the page, but where one, Charlotte, is egotistical and dense in multiple senses of the word, the other, Gabrielle, is unfamiliarly docile (Joanna Johnson and Mimi Robinson, respectively).
While the characters played by the trio of exceptional singer-actresses provide for some moments of comedic amusement, disappointingly neither of the villainesses are strikingly menacing in any way, thus removing a dose of dark, elemental conflict that would have given greater depth to the narrative. You still root for Ella’s prosperity, but perhaps less heartily so in the light of token strife.
Also making an appearance (and a most spellbinding transformation) in the show is none other than Ella’s Fairy Godmother a.k.a Crazy Marie (played with commanding presence by Leslie Jackson, whose performance curiously reminds us of Vanessa Williams’ Witch in Into the Woods.) Jackson’s and Lubov’s musical number “Impossible”, which re-enacts the famous pumpkin-turned-to-carriage scene, is one of the highlights of the spectacle along with “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”, Rodgers and Hammersteins’s unapologetically beautiful love duets.
Cinderella is, in fact, at its best when it’s not afraid to be classic. The fresh script by Douglas Carter Beane introduces some glaring changes in the form of contemporary anachronisms in an attempt to make the piece relevant to twenty-first century audiences, but many of the plot twists – particularly those in the second act – feel forced and removed from the immaculateness of the beloved original story.
Fortunately, the snarky tone is never pushed so far as to alienate the audience, but intrusive morality speeches, references to topical social issues, and lessons in politics won’t always sit well with theatregoers who are expecting a good old-fashioned night of light, escapist entertainment and enchantment (whoever would have thought that adorable woodland creatures and ministerial elections would have found themselves in the same fantasy world?)
While Cinderella’s book is unequivocally its greatest weakness, some of Beane’s reworkings are not entirely unwelcome. For one, newly added secondary characters Jean-Michel (Chris Woods) and Sebastian (Ryan Hunt) represent interesting conflicting forces in Prince Topher’s storyline, each toying with and pulling opposite ends of the thread of his conscience. His most astute move in modern sensibility, however, may have been the subtle but significant alteration of one of the story’s most famous plot details – the casualty of the lost glass slipper. (We’ll refrain from providing further details on the slight spoiler).
In the spirit of happily-ever-after, then, Cinderella can easily be forgiven for its faults and flaws. With lively choreography, vocally strong performances, and visually engaging design elements, it’s a delectable feast for the ears and the eyes from hors d’oeuvre to dessert. (Mind you, however, its lectures in kindness and compassion may give you cavities.)
Between the colourful, lavish costumes (by William Ivey Long) which change before your eyes with magical stagecraft, the palatial set structures which include an impressive marble staircase and glittering stagecoach (by Anna Louizos), and the swelling of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s romantic score, it’s “impossible“ not to fall in love with the uplifting, crowd-pleasing Cinderella to some regard. The production values are high throughout, well worth the price of admission (a surprise, truly, as Montreal has regrettably seen its share of less-than-stellar touring shows. In comparison to our Torontonian counterparts – who have the likes of Mirvish at their grace – we are at the mercy of those willing to wade through language law bureaucracies to supply us with our neglected big Broadway musical fix).
But this time, Montreal, we think you’re in for a ball.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
The North American touring production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA, presented by evenko and Broadway Across Canada, plays the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (Place des Arts, 175 Rue St-Catherine Ouest, Montreal, H2X 3X5) for a limited engagement of 8 performances from Tuesday, October 18th to Sunday, October 23rd, 2016.
Tickets are $42.75 to $103 and can be purchased online at placedesarts.com
or by calling the Box Office at (514) 842-2112 | 1 (866) 842-2112
Approximate running time: 120 minutes (includes one 15-minute intermission)
Performances are presented in English (no sub/surtitles)