Rewriting the story of “Cinderella” was probably the best thing that could have happened to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s princess.
In the Broadway touring production, which stopped at the Orpheum Theatre Thursday night, the new Cinderella isn’t a victim with an inability to hold on to her shoes. She’s an empowered voice for those silenced by authority.
Credit Douglas Carter Beane, the Tony nominee who rewrote the musty book and threw in plenty of surprises – including a new track for those glass slippers.
Sure, Ella (Tatyana Lubov) is still under the thumb of a pretty heinous stepmother (Sarah Smith), but now she has an ally in her stepsister Gabrielle (Nicole Zelka) and an old “crazy” woman, Marie (Leslie Jackson), who convinces her anything is possible.
Using the songs Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote for the television version of “Cinderella,” Beane is able to pay homage to the past while marching squarely into the future.
His prince isn’t some square-jawed stiff, either. In the hands of Louis Griffin, he’s a questioning royal, unsure if he’s getting the best advice from his right-hand man, Sebastian (Christopher Swan). Reluctantly, he falls for the idea of a ball in order to meet the woman who will be his queen.
As you might imagine, the field is vast and wide. Gabrielle and her oh-so-funny sister Charlotte (Joanna Johnson, a real scene stealer) turn up and try to turn heads.
Choreographer Lee Wilkins gives them – and a stage full of others – plenty to do, including a waltz that’s about as engaging as these things get. Clad in William Ivey Long’s rainbow of dresses, they create the necessary blur to Ella’s standout white gown.
That dress, by the way, is responsible for the night’s biggest gasp. In mere seconds, she goes from rags to riches and it’s all done without too much smoke and not a single mirror.
Lubov and Jackson get to bask in the glow, but it’s their fine rendition of “Impossible” that gets it all going.
Original director Mark Brokaw moves a select few pieces of scenery in such a way it seems this really is a kingdom, albeit one with a lot of trees and candlesticks.
Because Beane tosses so many curves at the audience, it’s, well, impossible to guess what comes next. The glass slipper isn’t left on a step at the castle and a revolutionary (Corbin Williams) isn’t just a diversion for scene changes.
While Smith might have played more of her moments for laughs, Zelka and Johnson capture the perfect tone, giving Lubov’s Ella reason to want out. Lubov hits all the necessary beats, but she doesn’t always look enamored with the prince, which makes their big dance less than momentous. Griffin, however, is just right as the prince (with a great falsetto) and Swan is so deliciously evil as Smith’s co-conspirator you want to see what he can do with Jafar and Scar.
Heck, it’d also be great to see what Beane could do with other shows. He’s so good at reimagining “Cinderella,” the glass slipper isn’t half-full, it’s filled with snarky one-liners, visual surprises and a happily ever after that doesn’t involve a woman settling for anything.