SANDY — When “Thor” director Kenneth Branagh directed Disney’s 2015 “Cinderella” remake, he told Entertainment Weekly that he wanted to “explore the idea of kindness as a super power.”
And so Disney’s heroine stuck to her mantra: “Have courage and be kind,” even while being abused and mistreated. But at the story's end, true to tradition, Cinderella’s fate was still ultimately determined not by her own doing, but by an enamoured prince.
Fairy tales, and especially their heroines, have come under scrutiny in recent years. Last year, actress Keira Knightley told Ellen DeGeneres that "Cinderella" is banned in her home because she “waits around for a rich guy to rescue her.”
Now, with Hale Centre Theatre bringing the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical “Cinderella” to the stage from July 1-Sept. 7, this local theater has a chance to put its own mark on the classic tale.
“We’re not about trying to hit people over the head with an agenda,” said Sally Dietlein, HCT's vice president and show producer. “Cinderella has always been a kind and gentle character, despite the fact that those attributes are getting kicked to the curb in storytelling today.”
The past 20 years or so have brought an explosion of strong, even warrior-like princesses to pop culture, from Mulan to "Brave's" Merida to BYUtv's Princess Gretta in the new series "Dwight in Shining Armor." These characters and others like them have taken elements of the old princess tropes and added in more contemporary ideas about female strength and independence. So, where does this leave Cinderella, one of fairy tales' most famously gentle figures, especially as she was imagined by Rodgers and Hammerstein in their 1957 TV musical?
According to HCT's director and choreographer Dave Tinney, part of the answer to that question lies "Cinderella's" 2013 Broadway revival, on which HCT’s production is largely based. This version, he said, is more in-step with modern audience expectations.
“Though good for the time, the original 1957 film version (starring Julie Andrews) gave an archaic view of men’s and women’s roles,” Tinney said. “So the 2013 Broadway revival was reworked for today’s audiences.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" has had its share of versions. After the live TV original in 1957 with Andrews in the lead, it again appeared on TV in 1965 with Leslie Ann Warren as Cinderella and then got a big screen adaptation in 1997 starring Brandy in the title role and Whitney Houston as her Fairy Godmother.
Tinney said that playwright Douglas Carter Beane's ("The Little Dog Laughed") book for the 2013 Broadway revival adds in quirky humor and character history, as well as a subplot involving a step-sister and a peasant boy bent on overthrowing the kingdom.
And while HCT's Cinderella — double cast with actresses Shae Robins and Amy Shreeve Keeler — remains mild-mannered despite maltreatment, Dietlein conceded that along with her gentle nature, the newly fashioned heroine presented for audience inspection is, inherently, a strong woman.
It is Cinderella, after all, who “opens the prince’s eyes to the injustices of the kingdom,” according to a press release.
In this version, Cinderella aids in her own rescue, as well. Instead of simply relying on outside help — that of a maternal fairy who outfits her, along with that charmed prince who falls in love with her — Cinderella’s brain will also play a part in shaping her destiny.
“Much like the Sondheim version of the character Cinderella from ‘Into the Woods,’” Tinney said, “this princess makes pivotal decisions, choosing to leave her shoe for the prince to find rather than accidentally losing it.”
Cinderella’s shoes and gown, as well as the rest of the ensemble’s ball clothing, won designer William Ivey Long a Tony Award for best costume design in 2013. The revival was nominated for a total of nine Tonys that year, and HCT promises a similarly dazzling production with set designs by Kacey Udy and costumes by Mary Ann Hill.
Despite nips and tucks in the script, the production will feature all the expected landmarks of this classic storybook romance, according to Dietlein. From the Fairy Godmother’s visit to the pumpkin-turned-coach, to the glittering and sumptuous ball interrupted by the midnight gong of the clock — all the expected splendor of the timeless tale will be on display.
And Cinderella will still have an arsenal of well-known Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, with hits such as "In My Own Little Corner," "Ten Minutes Ago" and "Do I Love You" to help her through her troubles.
The beloved score, according to Tinney, was likely the glue holding the original version together for decades, withstanding the test of time, even if many of the original’s two-dimensional characterizations haven’t.
“This new version is more polished, the story flows better and the characters are more fleshed out, giving the story a more human touch," Tinney said in a press release. "People are really going to love seeing this updated version with the Hale’s magical touches.”
If you go …
What: Hale Centre Theatre presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Cinderella”
When: July 1-Sept. 7, dates and times vary
Where: Young Living Centre Stage, 9900 S. Monroe Street, Sandy City
How much: $44-48 for adults, $22-24 for children