This Cinderella goes through some changes.
And that is both literally and figuratively true of the national touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which opened a six-day, eight-performance run at Bass Hall on Tuesday.
In the literal realm, the title urchin of this version of the classic fairy tale has some on-stage costume changes that are absolutely magical in their planning and deployment. One second she is standing there in rags and then, faster than a pumpkin can turn into a carriage, she spins around and is suddenly wearing a splendid ball gown.
In a more general sense, this treatment of the story offers a change of tone.
This show was created by American musical theater legends Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II as a 1957 television special starring Julie Andrews — the only musical the famous pair ever did for the small screen. This updated stage version, which had an 18-month Broadway run that just ended in January, features a new book by Douglas Carter Beane. It offers a much snarkier and more contemporary sense of humor than the original, I am told on good authority (I asked some women). And there is also an element of political awareness (there is a peasant revolt again the prince’s government) that is not usually part of this story.
In addition to some nifty stage magic and a strong comic attitude, this particular production, directed by Mark Brokaw, offers top flight vocalizing from all hands. Paige Faure, in the title role, and Andy Huntington Jones, as the handsome prince, Topher, sing their parts impeccably. And their efforts are matched up and down the cast list. The best voice in the show, in fact, may be Lauren Sprague (Marie and Fairy Godmother), from whom we hear in only a couple of numbers.
With a touring production like this, it is not too surprising to see that the vocals are well covered. But you will seldom see a show like this one where the acting matches the quality of the singing so consistently. Beth Glover (the wicked stepmother, Madame) is a scream as Cinderella’s delightfully wicked torturer. And Aymee Garcia (Cinderella’s stepsister Charlotte) draws heavy laughter with her hilariously petulant numbers.
The look of this Performing Arts Fort Worth presentation is as dazzling as the performances. The sets, designed by Anna Louizos, look like a pop-up storybook. And the costumes, by William Ivey Long, are opulent and eye-popping.
There are couple of things about Josh Rhodes’ choreography, however, that are neither good nor bad, but just interesting. The dance sequences are impressive, but the costumes are so colorful and billowing that it often appears that they are moving by themselves, without the people in them having any say in the matter. And the dance moves created for the men tend to be a great deal more gymnastic than artistic.
The only relative weak point in this show is, surprisingly, the music. Don’t get me wrong. This is an R&H musical, so the score is certainly well crafted. But we are spoiled by the other musicals by this team that are brimming with indelible hits. This show is not built that way, and it is just a bit of a shock to not instantly know or immediately fall in love with every song.
But, on the whole, this new, improved Cinderella has a lot of recommend it. The liberties it takes with its source material seems to be well chosen. The glass slipper still turns out to be a good fit.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Bass Hall, Fort Worth
7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 6:30 p.m. Sunday