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Theater review: Not your mother’s ‘Cinderella’

SHARE Theater review: Not your mother’s ‘Cinderella’

"CINDERELLA," through June 4, Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main (801-355-2787 or artsaltlake.org); running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (one intermission)

With plenty of tiaras, pink and tulle, the Broadway touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s "Cinderella” opened at the Eccles Theater in May.

For nostalgic parents and little girls in love with the more popular Disney iterations, this newer Broadway version might not be what you expect.

The story needs no introduction as it's based on a folk tale that’s been retold for hundreds of years. Rodgers and Hammerstein penned their take on the classic in a made-for-television musical adaptation that aired in 1957 starring Julie Andrews. The current tour features many of the well-known songs, “Ten Minutes Ago,” “A Lovely Night,” “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” and “Stepsisters Lament,” but has a reworked book by Douglas Carter Beane, and this is where the familiar tale begins to lose a bit of its magic.

This new, fresh script pulls and tugs at the fairy tale seams, much like a ball gown at midnight. The plot takes a tick too long to get to the familiar characters, losing many little audience members.

Beane has Cinderella lose her glass slipper after the ball, but promptly run back to get it. For those of you with brains rooted in the old tale, you’ll spend the bulk of act two worried about this slipper and when and how it’s going to reappear. But Beane has dreamt up another trip to the castle — yes complete with more help from the Fairy Godmother and another beautiful gown — but not to fall in love, rather to push a local political agenda (with the help of her friendly stepsister) and then sort of fall in love anyway.

With the downtrodden townsfolk ready to rally at the castle, worried about electing a prime minister, many of the gown-clad little ones in the audience (and their parents, frankly) quickly lose interest.

Then there’s the bit of Cinderella placing her slipper on the steps, rather than losing it on her way out of the castle. It was all just a bit heavy-handed on the girl-power sentiment. Obviously, the struggle in making a classic fairy tale modern is that there is no great way to do it and maybe everyone should just be OK with that. Sure, it’s great that Cinderella chooses her own destiny and is concerned about getting the prince’s politics back on track. But isn’t there something to be said for good old-fashioned romance and when did that get to be so taboo anyway? If romance and fairy tales aren’t your cup of tea, perhaps Cinderella isn’t the show for you in the first place.

That said, the touring cast does a lovely job creating an otherwise lovely night. Tooele native Joanna Johnson brought stepsister Charlotte to life (with great applause during curtain call). The performances were enjoyable and the costumes were dazzling. The flurry of beautiful skirts during the ball scenes were standouts, as were the performances of “Stepsisters Lament” and “A Lovely Night.”

The sets were beautiful, though some of the transformations were not as magical as one might expect from the minds of Broadway. Likely there was a technical glitch on Tuesday night, but Cinderella’s rags-to-riches change was simply Cinderella spinning in circles detaching her skirt so it would fall and reveal the beautiful under-fabric and quickly attaching a cloak-turned-skirt around her waist. It brought out whispers from a younger audience member that, “I think they showed too many of their secrets.” Again, that was most likely a snafu that other nights will be as magical as Ella’s second ball gown change.

This is a fine production with a talented cast. It just may leave you wanting to watch Cinderella fall in love with Prince Charming, not fight for political change.

Content advisory: "Cinderella" is family friendly.

Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program "Showtune Saturday Night."