Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella: a Different Sized Shoe by Dhriti Aiylam, Student Critic
Many of us know the story of Cinderella. The abused, beautiful, kind young girl who is treated awfully by her family, the drastic lengths she has to go through to be able to go the handsome Prince’s ball, and the instant connection that forms between her and the Prince, resulting in their “happily ever after” ending. We also know how she left her shoe behind, leaving the Prince only that small bit of evidence to find her- and after tediously trying house after house to see who the shoe fits, he finds the girl of his dreams, and the couple marries happily.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is Cinderella- but with a different taste to it. For starters, Gabrielle (Mimi Robinson), one of the stepsisters, was extremely likable and was on Cinderella (Tatyana Lubov)’s side rather than her stepmother’s. A new character, Jean-Michel (Chris Woods) was introduced. Differences stretched out to the plot as well. Cinderella leaves her shoe on the step, but she quickly snatches it back and runs away. The Prince (Hayden Stanes) holds a second banquet just to find her- and that time, she purposely leaves her shoe behind. Also, there were many other small differences- for example, while Cinderella’s relationship with animals was heavily emphasized in earlier adaptations; it was scarcely mentioned in this one.
But the most important differences between the two were that the musical added a lot more depth to one-sided characters, even adding new, lovable ones. It also dealt with a lot of important themes that the original lacks: governmental issues, and most importantly, especially for the younger viewers, the definition of beauty.
Characterization was the one thing that I can remember very well from the musical. Most, if not all of the characters were at least fairly rounded.
Let’s start with Ella. Ella was typical Ella- beautiful, kind- but she was also much more intelligent. For example, she had a love of books that was not so prominent in the old Cinderella. She also took on a more proactive role in her society, being the liaison between the prince and the poorer people. But even with these new character traits, she still seemed virtually flawless- not making her very interesting.
Prince Topher, on the other hand, had many shades of grey. Although kind-hearted, funny, strong, and adorably clumsy, he is far from perfect. He is very socially awkward, not knowing how to interact around the girls who attend his ball. He is unsure of himself and is trying to discover who he is- making him a very relatable character, especially to teens. Finally, he is very naive- although he means well, he is completely blind to the condition of the poorer people, and manages to be completely and utterly deceived by Sebastian (Ryan M. Hunt), his advisor.
Charlotte, the first stepsister, was definitely a favorite- both personal and with the audience, being the typical big, silly character, but lovable all the same. Charlotte wasn’t all jokes, though: in the song “Stepsister’s Lament”, she analyzes something that is very relevant today: body image. Charlotte, along with the other rejected women, annoyed, sings about why the prince would prefer a beautiful, almost doll-like girl like Cinderella over a girl like her. But although she had her moments, I didn’t like her overall portrayal. She is portrayed as the typical fat, dumb character, only able to walk by limping and thinking of mostly food. This fits a very grounded character trope which can be sensitive to others.
Jean-Michel, on the other hand (my personal favorite) really wanted to make a difference. Although a confident, inspiring speaker for the lower class, he became very awkward when mingling with those of the higher class. This was very interesting to watch as it helped layer his character and showed that, despite the fact that he disliked the way the upper class was treating the lower class, his intimidation of them prevented him from being brave and speaking his mind.
Conventional Cinderella is very shallow in the sense of themes. In the end, the unrealistically perfect girl wins the handsome Prince, and the two of them have a perfect and happy wedding. As with most Disney Princess movies, Cinderella’s character was mainly focused on her beauty. I liked how in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella they clarified the true reason the Prince fell in love with Ella- due to her unwavering kindness. In a world where only exterior beauty is marketed, this is an extremely important theme for young girls. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella allows girls to see the true benefits of Cinderella’s character and idolize those, instead of idolizing her beauty.
Government was also a theme that was heavily emphasized. Jean-Michel and Gabrielle take all the poor people together and complain to the Prince, who, shocked, has no idea what was going on, as Sebastian was trying to hide this information from him. I thought the idea was very good, because it subtly showed that even a fairy tale world never really is perfect. It also addressed corruption in the government- and how Sebastian tried to indirectly take power by sheltering the Prince from the truth. Finally, this scene really demonstrated how the wealthy live good lives and can be ignorant of all the suffering and poverty the lower classes live in. Although it might’ve been too complex for younger viewers, it was a way to interest older audiences.
The themes were very good in the sense of content, but I think that the execution could’ve been better.
Cinderella’s kindness really just seemed to be a side factor to why the Prince fell in love with her, in all honesty- after all, Cinderella was the most beautiful girl in the room. This theme of beauty relating to kindness was displayed across the entire musical- the more attractive characters were always the kindest ones. Although the musical emphasizes kindness- which is definitely good- it, like many other things in the media, connects physical beauty to inner beauty- something which I think is a bad message, as the two are completely unrelated.
The government theme wasn’t handled very well either. I liked the contrast between reality and fantasy- but it was very black-and-white. The transitions were rather poor- for example, Cinderella and the Prince would start a romantic song, but after that, it awkwardly shifted to the peasants discussing the state of the government with the Prince- something that must’ve been especially confusing to the little ones.
Now, for the technical aspect of the show- the music, the lighting, the dancing, and the costumes. All of them, in my opinion, were fantastic. The music, without a doubt, fell into the category of Disney songs- but Disney songs are always special and charming. The lyrics of the songs, in particular, helped to offer insights into the characters in incredible ways. Songs such as “In My Little Corner” and “Stepsister’s Lament” helped to really show what the character was feeling inside- something that was so much more powerful than a dialogue or soliloquy could be. I also loved the lighting, as the lighting helped set a mood for every scene. For example, in the beginning, when Prince Topher was fighting the monster, the woody, dark, scene helped to set a foreboding, ominous mood, while the beautiful blue of the night of the ball helped to show what an incredible time Cinderella and Topher were having in the palace. The dancing was also spectacular- all the actors knew their steps very well, and seemed to glide gracefully and effortlessly about the stage. The technical transitions from scene to scene were also excellent- the scenes just seemed to blend together, so the transitions didn’t seem choppy. The stage would also have actors performing while the transitions were occurring so they weren’t distracting.
However, I have to say the costumes were my favorite part of the (technical) show. Every single character had a costume that helped to define and enhance their character. The stepmother (Sarah Primmer), for example, was dressed extravagantly, but dressed in crimson, almost blood-colored clothing, showing that although wealthy, she wasn’t a nice person. But I think the thing about the costumes that I will never forget were the costume transitions- the execution was breathtaking. Cinderella’s costume changes in particular were very smooth- whenever she changed from her servant girl gown into the ball gown, she would simply twirl around, and it the old dress would be slowly but subtly cast off while the new dress would come into place- almost as if it were magic.
Despite its flaws, Cinderella was truly an outstanding performance. It combined both themes of fantasy and reality- and admittedly, although it had its ups and downs, it is undoubtedly a performance worth watching- whether it be the glimmering costumes, the lessons to be learned, or just for the timeless characters. So put on your Venetian glass slippers, slip on your ball gown, and get ready to waltz into a show almost as magical as the fairy godmother herself!