Mice transform into horses. A pumpkin becomes a carriage. Glass slippers somehow support an entire night of dancing. The tale of Cinderella is the queen of magical fairy tales, and best known in its Disney incarnation. But before cartoon mice staged a coup against the evil stepmother, the ever-lovely Julie Andrews sang her way into viewers’ hearts in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1957 live-television production of the classic rags-to-riches tale. And it’s from there that the Ordway’s production stems—a sparkling, magic-filled show of fantasy and dreams.
The key to enjoying Cinderella is channeling one’s inner seven-year-old. The jokes are cheesy, the acting is exaggerated, the plot is fast paced: this is a children’s show, after all. And to tailor the story to today’s kids, director Nick DeGruccio went one step further than past productions, replacing some of the script’s softer, more innocent sentiments with slapstick and snark. (The most obvious example: stepsister Joy’s breaking wind at inopportune moments. The kids ate it up.)
Although some of these changes distracted from the original production’s class and grace, it fortunately didn’t overwhelm the music, in which the true magic lies. Each song is text-book Rodgers and Hammerstein, from the chorus-driven “The Prince is Giving a Ball” to “Fol-de-Rol,” sung a sassy Tonia Hughes (Fairy Godmother), to Jessica Fredrickson (Cinderella) and Jeremiah James’s (Prince Christopher) beautifully sentimental duet, “Ten Minutes Ago.”
The petite and energetic Fredrickson is perfectly suited for her role. Packing a powerful voice and expressive face, Fredrickson maneuvers about the stage with confidence and grace. James keeps his role from becoming too sappy by lending the prince a touch of stubbornness and sarcasm. Local-theater favorites Gary Briggle (King) and Wendy Lehr (Queen) make a delightful pair, and use their few minutes on stage to regale the audience with their many talents. Greta Grosch owns her role as the evil stepmother, and never misses an opportunity to finagle an extra laugh from the audience.
One of the most impressive moments of the show was “the transformation.” Using black lights, hidden props, and perfectly timed choreography (thanks to the talented Bob Richard), the audience watched as mice became horses, a pumpkin became a carriage, and a disheveled Cinderella became a princess, all in less than a minute. It was musical theater at its best.
Judging from the reactions of the many little girls dressed like princesses on opening night, Cinderella was a hit. Sure, it lacks depth and it could have done without a few of Joy’s toots, but the music still soars and the heart of the story—good things come to those who deserve it—still beats strong.
Through January 1, 2012
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington St., St. Paul