When Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella premiered on US television in 1957, starring Julie Andrews, it was watched by 100m people, almost 60 per cent of America’s population at the time. Given such massive initial popularity, it is astonishing that the show has not, until now, been produced on Broadway. The new staging, directed by Mark Brokaw, offers clues as to why: the Richard Rodgers score feels less integrated than some of his other work, and the lyrics, by Oscar Hammerstein II (who also wrote the original book), offer lilt but not much trenchancy.
What a pleasure, then, to report that the production is an absolute joy, marred only by occasional slowness of pace. Douglas Carter Beane, author of a new book, has streamlined the story, peppering it with politician-skewering humour. There are Shrek-like touches, but the basic elements – pumpkin, glass slippers, masked ball – remain. The choreography, by Josh Rhodes, achieves a stately beauty of pace. The “Gavotte” number is a wonder, and, in the subsequent waltz, Rhodes gives Santino Fontana, the Prince, and Laura Osnes, the Cinderella, balletic moves that they execute with aplomb.
Osnes has been preparing for her own Cinderella story for a long time. On Broadway, she proved she had the feel for Rodgers & Hammerstein in South Pacific, and in Anything Goes she displayed bright ingénue charm. She also sings sublimely, and has something unteachable: sweetness that doesn’t make one want to retch.
The success of this Cinderella may be unthinkable without Osnes (Fontana is less memorable, though aptly cast), yet there are other pleasures here. Harriet Harris as the Stepmother and Peter Bartlett as the Prince’s chief adviser give the kind of old-school comic performances that have come to seem as rare as Osnes’s dulcet demeanour. And costumer William Ivey Long must have raided every tulle factory in North America to whip up so much fashion froth.
Blending numbers from the 1957 version with songs from the R&H trunk (the Prince’s lovely “Me, Who Am I?”, for instance, was cut from Me and Juliet), this evening reminds us why Cinderella never cracked the top tier of R&H’s most-produced shows: the tunes tend not to worm their way very deeply into your brain. But this weakness has a fairytale silver lining: you don’t have to spend the entire next week resenting them.