By Daniel Skora
Times change and so do the stories and fables that define us. “Cinderella” can be traced back to the 1600’s when an Italian publisher printed a version of the story in the Neopolitan dialect. Verbal renditions of the story are known to have gone back much farther. There are thousands of versions of “Cinderella” throughout the world, in languages as diverse as Icelandic, Mongolian, and Korean. The Brothers’ Grimm were responsible for a 19th century resurgence of the Cinderella story when it appeared in their collection of folk tales called “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”. Today’s standard for the tale in America is the 1950 Walt Disney animated film.
A National Touring Company of the 2013 award winning musical is currently appearing at the Detroit Opera House. Both the current show and the 2013 Tony award winner have as their progeny the 1957 television show that featured music by Rodgers + Hammerstein and starred Julie Andrews. Does the current show follow the same story as the classic American Version? To that, the answer is “Yes” and “No”. The show straddles the fence between the traditional and the revisionist.
It’s immediately apparent that things are going to be somewhat different. Cinderella’s name is now Ella, though the women she lives with have added the prefix “Cinder” because she spends so much time by the fireplace. Ella, played by the lovely and talented Kaitlyn Davidson, is still being taken advantage of by her stepmother Madame (Blair Ross) and her stepsister Charlotte (Lulu Picart). Her other stepsister Gabrielle (Kimberley Fauré) has been redefined as a kinder person, but since she has a passive personality, whatever consolation she can give Cinderella can only be done in secret. Meanwhile, the Prince, named Topher, (Short for Christopher. It must be fashionable for people in the kingdom to go by only half their names.) and played by Andy Huntington Jones, is a brave and mighty warrior, and though he has no problem slaying dragons and ten-foot-tall insects in the forest, he is unsure about running his kingdom. He defers to the Lord Chancellor Sebastian (Blake Hammond), who unbeknownst to the prince has been overtaxing the peasants and confiscating their land. Aiding Sebastian in his shenanigans is the Lord Pinkleton (Chauncey Packer). Fortunately, the kingdom has a social activist. Jean-Michel (David Andino) rallies the townsfolk in protest with his speeches, and even solicits Ella to help.
There are some basics about the Cinderella story that really can’t be changed without causing a disturbance among its loyal fans. Cinderella still gets to wear glass slippers, and a good fairy godmother, Marie (Liz McCartney) is still around to see that she gets to the prince’s ball. There’s still a pumpkin that magically changes into a golden carriage, forest animals that become footmen, and everyone and everything’s gotta be back by midnight.
One interesting addition to the Cinderella saga is the Game of Ridicule, an entertainment which takes place at the masked ball. Two women are encouraged, neigh, provoked to try and out-ridicule the other. To the delight of the hoity-toity group, they proceed to have a go at each other about everything from their respective hairdos to their ball gowns. Perhaps they never heard of charades. And try explaining this one to your child or grandchild, of whom there were many in attendance on opening night, many dressed in their princess-style best. Maybe parents could have their children watch political talk shows for a couple of evenings before seeing the show and the kids would know exactly what’s going on.
“Cinderella” is a lavish production with great sets, fabulous costumes, and more than a little Broadway magic. Most of the songs are pure Rodgers + Hammerstein, the best from the 1957 television musical still part of the score. The cast of over twenty actors/singers/dancers are talented and enthused.
“Cinderella” runs through February 28th. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 800.982.2787, online at www.BroadwayinDetroit.com or www.ticketmaster.com, and at The Detroit Opera House or Fisher Theatre box offices. Additional information is available at www.CinderellaOnBroadway.com.