“That man, a world leader? But he appears to have a heart, mind, and soul!” Not how a blushing bride of the 17th century is expected to address her prince and future lover… But in Madison this week, it is.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella takes a Disney classic and turns it upside down and inside out. The tale of a sweet, mild-mannered peasant marrying a stately, noble prince is far from the story being told at the Overture Center. Instead, an empowered, compassionate woman leads her hesitant, sheltered prince to becoming the leader the kingdom truly needed.
This 2013 version of the bedtime standard spares favored moments from the 1950 film: Ella’s peasant rags transforming into and out of a sparkling ball gown (thanks to the innovative costuming of William Ivey Long), and the pumpkin-turned-carriage, borne of set designer Anna Louizos’s clever handiwork.
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Outside of similar aesthetic wonders, Cinderella gives this classic some much-needed modern context. The addition of the role Jean-Michel (Chris Woods), a middle class rebel itching for a revolution, is a compelling choice. He inspires those around him to recognize surrounding injustice, as royals evict citizens from their land. Ella, gracefully embodied by Tatyana Lubov, brings these wrongdoings to the attention of Prince Topher (Hayden Stanes), giving the two something more to connect on than just the moonlight and music.
The villains in Cinderella contrast with those one might expect. The stepsisters each have humanized qualities. Joanna Johnson’s comedic timing in the role of Charlotte highlights that, while the siblings don’t exactly like their virtuous roommate, they aren’t absolute monsters. Gabrielle, the second stepsister (Mimi Robinson), takes that a step further, by showing love to Ella. Madame, or the stepmother (Sarah Primmer), doesn’t lock Ella in the attic, as depicted in the 1950 film. She is clouded by her greed and self-love, but is no more than a woman who longs for a lavish life. The real villain is Prince Topher’s advisor, Sebastian, who has kept his highness from interacting with anybody below his status, consequently closing Topher’s eyes to the problems under his rule.
Fragmented set pieces move effortlessly from scene to scene, setting the mystically elegant backdrop for the entire tale. The use of a full color spectrum for costumes and ball gowns, paired with grand, polished strokes of choreography (courtesy of Josh Rhodes, of the Original Broadway Choreography, and Lee Wilkins, the Tour Choreographer), give a live fluidity that can only be compared to what is accomplished through animation.
Any hiccups during the course of the show were minor in scale and minimal in number. Truly, through a strong production team, excellent direction (by Mark Brokaw, of the Original Broadway run, and Gina Rattan, the Tour Director), and a cast of many talents, “the happiest place on Earth” became a performance hall in Madison.