While it’s always been blessed with a splendid Rodgers and Hammerstein score, and a dose of fairytale magic, the book of Cinderella has always proved lacking. It was the flimsiest musical telling of this fairy tale of all and full of dated jokes that were not super great in the 1950s as well as extreme fat shaming of one of the stepsisters.
Disney made strides toward giving Cinderella a bit more agency in their famed version with Brandy and Whitney Houston in 1997, and that version has been produced many times since. But the version on stage at the Drury Lane is the recent Broadway production with a revised book by Douglas Carter Beane that provides a more contemporary, empowered take on the classic fairy tale heroine. I’d like to say it had fixed all the problems with this show, but it hasn’t. It is, however, the best version that’s out there and the Drury Lane production takes that improvement and runs with it.
Whereas previous Cinderellas seek simply to attend the ball and find their prince, in this new production Cinderella, played here with great serenity and lovely tone by Lissa deGuzman, takes more agency over her own destiny and actively pursues political reforms in the kingdom and demonstrates her character as she spreads kindness to others. She joins the people of the kingdom and a new political rabble rouser character, Jean-Michel played with wide-eyed innocence by Christopher Llewyn Ramirez in this. He’s just one of the major character changes in this version. The Prince’s doting parents have been killed off and replaced with Sebastian played with not much menace but a lot of humor by Jeff Parker, the politician who raised the Prince. He’s been oppressing the people in the Prince’s name.
The Fairy Godmother’s part has been beefed up and given more comedy and she’s ably embodied by McKinley Carter in this production. Cinderella’s wicked Stepmother has been replaced by Madame, who gets trauma to explain why she’s so mean and Gisela Adisa basically channels Eartha Kitt in the role to great effect. One of the stepsisters is given a redemption arc, and while it’s charmingly done, it absolutely guts the best part of the original show, which was the interaction among the stepsisters.
And the Prince (played here with utter charm and an incredible singing voice by Jeffrey Kringer) has also been given more to do and more agency as well. He’s not just running after a girl. He’s wanting to do a good job running the kingdom, even though he’s unsure of his ability.
And truly the best part is the way the new script contrives to give more meetings between Cinderella and the Prince. They develop an actual relationship where they have substantive conversations and fall in love. It gives the songs they sing much more impact.
There are also a lot of high-quality jokes in the script. They are updated but still totally anachronistic, like the 1950s version, though the dated language in a few of the song lyrics is now even more glaringly obvious.
All of the dazzling moments of the Rodgers and Hammerstein score, including beloved songs like “Ten Minutes Ago,” “In My Own Little Corner,” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” are still in the story, though the opening number has been completely rewritten, new songs added, and the endless recitation of the Prince’s name (which has been changed to Topher) joke has blessedly gone away.
It’s both familiar and new and a perfectly charming holiday treat suitable for the entire family. The cast is very able and nearly every one of them has an absolute stand-out moment during the production. It’s a lovely night at the theatre for the holiday season and you’ll leave singing the famous songs.
Photos by Brett Beiner
Tickets are available at the Drury Lane Box Office. The show runs through January 7th.