From left: Eric Anthony Johnson, \ Kaitlyn Davidson and Chip Abbott from the Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA tour. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
By PAM HARBAUGH
ORLANDO — The Fairy Godmother promises “It’s Possible.” She’s right, because not only does a raggedy dress magically spin into a ball gown before our very eyes, but a Rodgers & Hammerstein 1957 classic turns into something fun and fresh in the Broadway tour of “Cinderella,” on stage now at Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
Forget Cinderella as victim. Here, with an updated libretto by Douglas Carter Beane, she is spunky and funny and has a surprising twist to that glass slipper, showing she’s captain of her own ship. The Stepmother, although plenty nasty, becomes more human. And the sisters…well, one of them is a bookworm in love with a social activist.
A slayer of dragons and nasty huge insects, the Prince, named “Topher,” longs to do something more important than pest control. (However, he must be doing a pretty good job because there are no mice anywhere in this production.)Although there’s no “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” (again, that’s the Disney version) little girls can still come wearing their tulle and tiaras and feel right at home, while adults will chuckle from jokes about politicians and fat sisters.
There are the charming songs like Cinderella’s “In My Own Little Corner” (sung to sweet perfection by pert and pretty Kaitlyn Davidson): the Fairy God Mother’s “Impossible,” (sung with operatic gravitas by Liz McCartney); and the lovely duet between the Prince and Cinderella, “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” (charming Andy Huntington Jones joins Ms. Davidson).
The “Stepsister’s Lament” is sung by one stepsister (note the apostrophe); here, that is the rotund Charlotte (an oh-so-funny and strong voiced Aymee Garcia). The other stepsister is too busy — Gabrielle (bespectacled Kimberly Faure), who prefers the word “sister,” joins her love interest, Jean-Michel (bespectacled David Andino) volunteering in a soup kitchen. And the not-so-evil Stepmother, Madame (a droll Blair Ross) aligns herself with Lord Pinkleton (Chauncey Packer) in the merry number “The Prince is Giving a Ball.”
The music, led by conductor Valerie Gebert, is strong and in perfect pitch. The choreography by Josh Rhodes and direction by Mark Brokaw are full and lush, (Ms. Davidson proves to be a lovely dancer as well). And the scenic design by Anna Louizos magically sweeps us from the forest to the cottage and then the castle.
But out of it all, the real star here is costume designer William Ivey Long. He wields the magic wand with his before-your-very-eyes transformation of rags into a gorgeous white ball gown; and then its sudden disappearance will make you blink. In fact, the transformation is just so magical, it’s done again when rags are spun into gold.
Yes, that’s right. The costume design enjoys a reprise, the best in the show, actually.
The show does sag a bit in the second act with one song that feels operatic and out of place and an over-long forest pursuit with an odd dance number when the Footman and Driver turn back into woodland creatures. But just hold your breath, they’re over soon enough and you’re back into the fun that makes “Cinderella” so enchanting.
At the Orlando opening, audiences, especially high pitched little girls, screamed with delight over this show. It’s a sweet treat for the whole family, and you don’t need little ones to be charmed by the magic.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Cinderella” runs through Sunday, Nov. 15, at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando. It is part of the 2015-2016 Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando Season and is presented in partnership with the Florida Theatrical Association. Tickets begin at $33. Call 844-513-2014 or visit DrPhillipsCenter.org.