Dallas — Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and one’s preconceived notions of the Cinderella story will likely have a huge impact on how Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella will be received. With a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, the national tour of the rags-to-riches tale at the Music Hall at Fair Park, presented by Dallas Summer Musicals, takes plenty of unexpected turns and adds heaping doses of over-the-top comedy, while keeping the original music, adapted and arranged by David Chase. (After Dallas, the tour moves to Fort Worth for a weeklong run at Bass Performance Hall.)
At its core, the musical (direction by Mark Brokaw) maintains the traditional elements of the story, a centuries-old folk tale that has been rewritten many times. Cinderella (Paige Faure) suffers cruelties and humiliations at the hands of her late father’s second wife (Beth Glover) and stepsisters (Kaitlyn Davidson as Gabrielle, Aymee Garcia as Charlotte). A royal ball promises a chance at meeting and possibly marrying the prince (Andy Huntington Jones), but Cinderella has no hope of going until she receives help from a fairy godmother (Kecia Lewis).
With a new dress, glass slippers, and a coach fit for royalty, she ventures to the ball where she and the prince fall in love. Midnight signals the end of the glamour, so she flees and leaves behind a slipper. The prince eventually finds her, and they live happily ever after.
Beane takes the concept of unjust oppression further and inserts it as a significant subplot. The story begins right before the ball announcement, so it assumes that the audience already knows how Cinderella got to her present state. We catch glimpses of the prince’s backstory, and new characters appear to establish a politically themed storyline. Cinderella escapes the prince’s grasp not once, but twice, and still receives the fairytale ending.
The production stands in stark contrast to other Cinderella adaptations, most notably the most recent film version. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s version debuted on TV, rather than onstage, in 1957 with Julie Andrews in the title role, and has been redone twice on TV. This stage production debuted on Broadway in 2013. Instead of the dreamy, sweet fairytale quality you might best know thanks to the classic 1950 Disney animated film, this one has a louder, more lighthearted feel. The stepmother is cruel but not sinister, and comedic moments overshadow the hopelessness of the heroine’s plight.
Modern vocabulary, colloquialisms, and situations take the regal formality out of the story, moving it away from the typical Disney princess-type story. Line delivery tends towards the overdramatic and is overdone at times for comedic effect. While the moments of romance are nice, much of that part of the story rushes in an effort to keep up with the political subplot.
If you’re quite attached to most of the retellings in the 20th and 21st centuries, with their typically elegant nature, these changes might come as an unwelcome surprise. Of course, the story has been reimagined many times, so this production fits with that tradition.
Regardless of how you prefer this fairy tale, the show contains some standout moments anyone can appreciate. Cinderella’s costume change from her servant’s rags to ball gown is a beautiful sleight of hand; don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
Ensemble choreography by Josh Rhodes provides a lovely and exciting visual, especially a lively sequence where the palace guards chase Cinderella’s footman and driver, who are actually a fox and raccoon (Tanner Ray Wilson and Blakely Slaybaugh, respectively). Impressive lifts bring enchantment to the waltz segment of the ball.
Faure portrays a strong but always hopeful heroine and displays an impressive dramatic range for the musical number “In My Own Little Corner.” Garcia and Glover garner the most laughs with their performances, with each lady exploring a variety of pitches and levels in line delivery. Their best singing moments happen alongside Faure and Davidson in “A Lovely Night.”
The gentlemen prove they can hold their own, with charming performances by Jones and David Andino, who plays the revolutionary Jean-Michel. Both exhibit a lovable optimism and display the right amount of sweet awkwardness in matters of romance.
The musical overall takes the patron on an intriguing ride through the classic story, with detours, surprise turns, and a final destination that goes beyond the tale’s typical ending. The goal of finding true love takes a backseat to the themes of fairness and kindness, but even though more mature ideas dominate, the production remains completely family-friendly. It’s a great evening for little girls to don their princess dresses and enjoy a jubilant evening with their families.