New musical – or revival? You be the judge. Wherever you come out on this not exactly earth shattering question, I think you will find the new recording on Ghostlight Records of the score for Cinderella a marvelous listen.
It's the kind of album – and the kind of score – that you can put on, close your eyes and let the sound conjure up the images of a famous and familiar story.
If you saw the show in the theater, the memories of scenes, performances, designs, dances, effects and spectacle flood back. If not, the music creates impressions of what those scenes, performances, designs, dances, effects and spectacles must be like.
It helps, of course, that the score is so well suited to the telling of a fairy tale romance. Rodgers and Hammerstein penned "In My Own Little Corner," "The Prince Is Giving A Ball," "Impossible/It's Possible," "Ten Minutes Ago," "Stepsisters' Lament," "Waltz for a Ball," "Do I love You Because You're Beautiful?," "When You're Driving Through the Moonlight" and "A Lovely Night" in 1957. In sum, they created a score that carries the feeling of a fairy tale while combining it with then-contemporary romance and a touch of gentle humor that cuts through pretensions.
The original wasn't written for the Broadway stage. No, it was written as a live television one-time-only performance. Of course, television offered an audience of amazing numbers. Estimates of the number of Americans watching that night exceeded 100,000,000 which was over 60% of every citizen in the country.
There seems to be some feeling that an "old fashioned" musical needs to be, as Ted Chapin says in the notes in this album's booklet, "brought into our times." I don't know that I buy that – especially when it is a musical set in a fairy tale time and place. Yes, Cinderella probably needed to be "interpreted" as a bit more "spunky" and less "subservient" than in the 1957 version. But that could be accomplished primarily through the performance style (and Laura Osnes accomplishes a good deal of the making of this Cinderella a role model for 21st century teenage girls through her demeanor.)
What the original musical needed was a bit of additional material because the original ran only about 85 minutes as a television show. That gave this production room to enrich the basic material with a few songs drawn from Rodgers and Hammerstein's canon and perhaps a touch of enriched subplots. Instead, this production has a completely new book by Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed, Lysistrata Jones, The Nance, Sister Act and Xanadu). He follows both Hammerstein and his source, Charles Perrault, with a fresh look at the classic tale, doing no damage to the strengths most of us remember from the earlier tellings but adding quite a few additional touches. Thus, while the show is competing for the Tony Award for the Best Revival of a Musical, his book is competing for the Tony Award for Best New Book for a Musical – go figure!
Cinderella is now officially called not just Cinderella and not even Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella but Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, with a plus sign. Who knows what this latest example of corporate branding gone to excess is supposed to denote? Not I.
The recording preserves Laura Osnes' charmingly winning performance as a slightly spunkier Cinderella and Santino Fontana's Prince makes a fine transition from callow but very attractive youth to a mature but still very attractive ruler. Harriet Harris, Marla Mindelle and Ann Harada are the step mother and step sisters, with Harada being given a prominence on "Stepsister's Lament" indicated by the change in its title from "Stepsisters' Lament."
The jewel of the vocal performances caught on this recording, however, is that of Victoria Clark as the fairy godmother. Her "Fol-De-Rol" is a kick and her "There's Music In You" is tender and touching. That song, which was written for the 1953 movie From Main Street to Broadway was first interpolated into Cinderella for the 1997 television remake starring Brandy and Whitney Houston.
This recording uses the same 20 player orchestra as you will find in the pit at the Broadway Theatre with one listing of an alternate on one of the trumpet charts. The sound of that orchestra is magical in the overture, dance breaks (especially the extended dance sequence in "The Pursuit") and the exit music. But where, oh where, is the entr’acte? It was delightful in the theater but it is missing on the recording. With a disc that runs only an hour, there was room to include it as well.
Unfortunately, as I noted in my column on the Tony Orchestration Award nominees, of whom Danny Troob is one for his fine work on this score, there is a skimpiness evident in “The Waltz for a Ball.” In the theater it appears that the amplification takes the place of true lushness. That lack of lushness is apparent on the recording.
Some of the additions that Beane and his colleagues have come up with are rather important. The entire show opens on a short song ("Bright Canary Yellow") which was cut from South Pacific and both "Loneliness of Evening" and "Now Is The Time" that were cut from that classic are key parts of this version of the score.
Some of the changes are as small as exchanging "guy" for "jerk" in "Me, Who Am I?," which was borrowed from an early version of the opening of Me & Juliet. Truth to tell, "guy" is better than "jerk" in that spot. As the magic in musicals is the cumulative effect of so many tiny details, I wouldn't think of challenging the change. It isn't that I question their right to tinker with the work of the late Mr. Hammerstein. But they should, at a minimum, make it clear just which words are his and which are Mr. Beane's. And here, the album is as disappointing as was the playbill at the theater. All either of them says is "Additional lyrics by Douglas Carter Beane and David Chase." Yes, but which ones?
Also, they don't print the lyrics in the booklet. Lyrics as wonderful and carefully crafted as Hammerstein's need to be printed so you can savor the artistry and craft. Instead, the booklet includes the dreaded note "Full lyrics available at www.CinderellaOnBroadway.com/Lyrics." (Some browsers may require that “lyrics” be in all lower case.) How long there will be a website "CinderellaOnBroadway.com" after the show closes is anyone's guess. Then what?
Then, at least, we will still have this recording so we can thoroughly enjoy the score even if we may not be able to follow along with the printed lyric.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Original Cast Recording
Ghostlight Records catalog 8-447
Running time 60 minutes over 26 tracks
Packaged with credits, synopsis, notes and 20 color photos
May 28, 2013
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Original Broadway Cast of the Revival