Whether it’s The Book of Mormon paying sly tribute to The King and I or modern-dance homages to The Sound of Music or soccer fans worldwide bellowing ballads from Carousel, the shows of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II continue to have a firm hold on popular culture. This spring, these musical titans will be represented on Broadway once again with Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
One thing that the revered team isn’t in a position to do is extend its reach. Not personally, at least: Hammerstein died more than 50 years ago, and Rodgers passed away in 1979. But in addition to overseeing the revivals of their shows and of other licensing agreements (like the ones mentioned above), the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization has periodically dipped into the duo’s catalog to generate new properties. The latest example of this is Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which opens at the Broadway Theatre in early 2013.
Technically, it’s a semi-new property. Since premiering on CBS in 1957 as a Julie Andrews vehicle, this musically ravishing retelling has been remade for television twice and also staged in venues ranging from New York City Opera to the London Coliseum to Tokyo. However, the latest version – featuring Laura Osnes, a Tony Award ® nominee last year for Bonnie and Clyde, in the title role – should be the definitive Cinderella. This stems in part from the work of two modern-day collaborators with more than two dozen Broadway credits between them: David Chase and Douglas Carter Beane.
While less familiar to today’s audiences, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella was enormously successful in 1957, reaching 107 million viewers – or “four viewers per television set in America,” according to Ted Chapin, president and executive director of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. But even though songs like “Ten Minutes Ago,” “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” and “Impossible/It’s Possible” have earned a loyal fan base, there are relatively few of them in the original score.
Chase, the longtime arranger and orchestrator (the recent revivals of Evita and Anything Goes both feature his dance arrangements) who is credited with “music adaptation, supervision and arrangements” on the production, estimates that the 1957 song stack is less than half the size of today’s typical musical. And unlike such immediate predecessors as Cole Porter and the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein left behind very few of what are known as “trunk songs” – discarded tunes that can be repurposed for later productions.
This is where Chase and Beane, the new book writer (Sister Act, The Little Dog Laughed), came in. While Beane pored over a book of Hammerstein’s lyrics to find some apropos obscurities, Chase worked on expanding the existing Cinderella material wherever possible and unobtrusively interpolating additional Rodgers melodies elsewhere. “The goal is always to get into Rodgers’ head and try to make the choices he might have made,” Chase says.
The rare outtake from South Pacific and The Sound of Music appears to have made the cut – the score is still somewhat in flux – and so has “I Haven’t Got a Worry in the World,” which the duo wrote for a Mary Martin play that they produced. Other additions are less obvious, as when Chase took the melody of “Ten Minutes Ago” and turned it into a bridge for the song “Loneliness of Evening,” “even though this meant converting the waltz from ¾ time to 4/4,” he says.
When Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella opens in February, it will probably be the last “new” Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Never say never, though. “We think we have now finally exhausted the catalog,” Chapin says. “But we have thought that before.”
By John Allendale
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