“Glass slippers are so back,” reads the tagline for the new production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, starting previews at the Broadway Theatre on January 21, 2013. As contemporary as that tagline reads, book writer Douglas Carter Beane approached this musical by going back to the late 1600s—to Charles Perrault’s original French story.
Everyone knows the story of Cinderella, a girl forced to serve her stepmother and stepsisters until given the chance to go to a prince’s ball by her fairy godmother with the condition that she must return home by midnight. “They always say in Hollywood there are only five stories,” says Beane. “Cinderella is one of them. How many books or movies do you know where they say it’s a real Cinderella story? And the reason is it is so emotionally powerful.”
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella was written as a television special starring Julie Andrews in 1957. It was remade in 1965 starring Lesley Ann Warren and again in 1997 starring Brandy. But it has never been seen on Broadway until this production, directed by Mark Brokaw (The Lyons) and starring “the best stage actors for these roles period,” according to Beane—Laura Osnes (Bonnie & Clyde), Santino Fontana (Sons of the Prophet) as the Prince, Victoria Clark (The Light in the Piazza) as Marie the fairy godmother, and Harriet Harris (Thoroughly Modern Millie) as the stepmother Madame.
When producer Robyn Goodman (Avenue Q) approached Douglas Carter Beane with the idea of revising Oscar Hammerstein’s book to bring Cinderella to Broadway, Beane, who was raised on the Lesley Ann Warren album, was weary of getting on board. “I didn’t see how I would have anything to add it,” he says. But then over the holidays he was telling stories to his nieces and children and was looking for different versions of Cinderella to tell them when he came across the original by Charles Perrault. “This is not the story that’s ever told,” Beane says. “They never go to the original story, which is so romantic and so funny and so wise. And suddenly I saw the match of Rodgers and Hammerstein. I said, ‘I’ve got the way in.’”
Beane started this project by writing a new book and putting in the songs. Because the original television version was only about an hour long, he added other Rodgers and Hammerstein songs cut from other musicals including South Pacific, The Sound of Music, The King and I, and Me and Juliet. After a reading, he worked on it some more, trying to match the script with Oscar Hammerstein’s style, making sure to remain true to the sensibilities of Rodgers and Hammerstein while making it fresh and funny. “What I love about it is it feels like a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. It really feels like it belongs in their world,” he says.
One element of Perrault’s story which Beane incorporated was the way Cinderella changes everyone’s lives for the better through her kindness, which Beane says is a natural fit for Oscar Hammerstein’s work which values good manners and citizenship.
Perrault’s story was also commenting on French life at the time and the Broadway musical might also be seen as a commentary on contemporary life. “I think the last line of the French version is, ‘Beauty is a wonderful thing to have in a woman but not as wonderful as kindness,’” says Beane. “It’s a fantastic message to be telling kids and to be reminding grown-ups of right now. Because of the internet, our discourse has become much cruder and ruder and the reminder to be kind is a welcome thing right now.”
According to Beane, Rodgers and Hammerstein dreamed of bringing their Cinderella to Broadway, but they did not get around to it before Hammerstein’s death. Beane thinks now is the right time because it will still resonate with our lives today. “It is a great love story. It is a romantic story. It is a funny story. But it’s also about some people are very rich and some people are very poor and how we get along in the world and how one single act of kindness can explode and change everything,” he says.
It was also important to Beane, known for comedic books such as Xanadu, Sister Act, and Lysistrata Jones, that there be a steady amount of humor. “I tried to have one moment in every scene where everyone just has a laugh—where everyone gets to let go, enjoy the situation, enjoy the characters, and have a good laugh,” he says. “Because laughter to me is the sound of people falling in love. It’s the sound of people falling in love with the character, identifying with the character. It’s people identifying with the situation.”
But for all the laughter, audiences may be surprised that the show is not as lightweight and dismissible as they might expect. Beane, who is very proud of all the books he’s written for musicals says he’s especially pleased with the book for Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella “because it has a lot of heartfelt scenes.”
Click here to purchase tickets to Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella On Broadway.