Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
The R&H version began life as a television property which was first broadcast in 1957 with Julie Andrews, and then subsequently in 1965 with Lesley Ann Warren and 1997 with Brandy Norwood. Like most major Western versions of the story, this one follows the tale of a mistreated step-daughter who is transformed outwardly to match her already existing inner beauty just in time to go to the royal ball and fall in love with the prince.
This production is based on the 2013 Broadway revival, with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane (Xanadu, Sister Act) that includes significant changes from the original one by Oscar Hammerstein II. The new story contains effective one-liners and has additional characters, more conflict, a secondary romantic couple, and added social commentary. While the main storyline remains the one familiar to most people, purists may find the changes to be excessive and the political correctness to be a bit heavy handed. Still, the new material adds some effective comedy, more depth to the characters, positive messages, and an overall heightened excitement.
The score by the legendary team of Richard Rodgers (music) and Hammerstein (lyrics) includes "The Prince Is Giving a Ball," "In My Own Little Corner" (Cinderella's want song), "Impossible; It's Possible," a duet for Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother, the beautiful love duet "Ten Minutes Ago," and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful." This offering also contains five additional Rodgers & Hammerstein songs not heard in the original TV broadcast. The rich and haunting music and wonderfully descriptive lyrics are a great fit for the material and in line with the writing team's typical high-quality work.
As Cinderella, Sasha Spitz skillfully captures the eager and tenderhearted nature of the character, possesses strong stage presence, and sings with crisp and clear vocals. Peter Neureuther demonstrates robust lower tones and a pleasant vibrato in his singing as Topher (the Prince) and commendably communicates the young prince's sincerity and uncertainty. Alli Bossart brings warmth and fun quirkiness as Marie, the Fairy Godmother, and garners great audience responses with her powerful vocals.
Sarah Pansing (stepmother Madame) and Julia Yameen (stepsister Charlotte) are appropriately mean, but not too over-the-top to make it seem out of place, and they nail the subtle humor of their roles. As kind stepsister Gabrielle, Alloria Frayser supplies an effective mix of nerdy kookiness and kindness. Stanislav Przedlacki is effective as the feisty, justice-seeking Jean-Michel, and Jackson Reagin (Lord Pinkleton) and Jack D'Angelo (Sebastian) present sharp characterizations as court advisors. The ensemble provides strong dancing and first-rate vocal support, including some strong choral work.
Director Eric Byrd applies a light touch to the proceedings, bringing a loving tone to the piece and supplying apt transitions and blocking throughout. The various special effects for the transformations are visually appealing as well. Choreographer Brandon Kelly supplies suitable dances throughout, with some pleasing partner work during the ball scene being a highlight. Ian Axness leads an excellent 20-piece orchestra.
Student scenic designer Abigail Heyd provides suitable and distinct sets for the many locales, though they sometimes lack the finer details associated with CCM productions from previous years. The costumes by Elizabeth Payne are handsome and apt to the material, including several quick-change outfits that add a wow factor to the proceedings. The lighting by student designer Jessica Drayton includes a number of stunning effects, as well as subtle designs displayed on the stage floor.
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella doesn't possess the high-adrenaline story or score of The Wild Party or the college age relatable angst and pop score of Spring Awakening, but it does capture a timeless quality that will always make classic musical theater worthy of productions and audience viewing. The staging by CCM is solid and traditional, and the praiseworthy cast upholds the high standards of the program's pedigree.
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella runs through March 4, 2023, at University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Patricia Corbett Theater, 290 CCM Blvd, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-556-4183 or visit ccmonstage.universitytickets.com/w/?cid=168.