In a Broadway season filled with notable female roles – the title characters alone include Ann Richards, Little Orphan Annie, Matilda, Sue Mengers and the Virgin Mary – a young woman with a big dream and some fabulous costume changes has become an audience favorite.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella recently snatched up nine Tony Award nominations, including ones for two of its stars: Laura Osnes, who plays Cinderella, and Victoria Clark, who plays her fairy godmother. Josh Austin sat down with these two women and their costars Harriet Harris and Ann Harada, who play Cinderella’s slightly-less-wicked-than-usual stepmother and stepsister, to discuss their familiarity with the piece (which began as a pair of beloved TV specials) and how they keep the show fresh for a new generation of Cinderella fans.
When did you first experience Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella?
Victoria Clark: As a kid. Not the first one, not the Julie Andrews one, but the Lesley Ann Warren one. It was just one of those things — you watched Cinderella and The Sound of Music.
Ann Harada: I’m just like Vicki; I watched the Lesley Ann Warren version every year growing up. I remember my parents sitting me down in front of the TV with my dinner on a TV tray going, “Okay, you’re going to watch this right now [laughs] and you’re going to really have a good time.”
Harriet Harris: I had forgotten how much it had penetrated my psyche when we started working on this again. I had really just thought, “Oh, ‘Cinderella,’ that’ll be cute.” Then a couple of hours in, I went [gasps], “Oh, my god, it’s in my DNA. I know all of this. I know this music.”
Laura Osnes: My first introduction to this was learning “In My Own Little Corner” when I was probably 10 in voice lessons. I saw the Brandy version once on TV, but that’s kind of it.
Who is the audience for Cinderella?
Clark: We get everybody. We get college roommates coming for girlfriend reunions. We get same-sex dates and hetero dates. We see a lot of grandparents bringing a grandchild for their birthday. Then they go home and they tell the generation between, “You gotta come see it.” Then they come back and they bring their other kids.
Harada: I feel like this is a throwback to the time when Broadway was the currency of popular music. Every family had a copy of Oklahoma! or My Fair Lady or The Sound of Music because they heard all the songs on the radio. It was a much more broad-based entertainment, and I think this is a throwback to that. At any age you’re going to be able to appreciate our production.
Harris: When I did Thoroughly Modern Millie, [composer] Jeanine Tesori said, “I would just, for once in my life, like to have a show that I helped create that I could bring my daughter to.” And I think that the same thing is here.
What was recording the cast album like?
Harris: I loved it because I love listening to everybody every night, and I thought, “I’ll have this album forever.” I also thought, “My godparents, who aren’t going to be able to make the trip, they will be so excited to hear this.” … We’ve been told it sounds great.
Osnes: Yes, they all say it sounds good. We haven’t heard the album yet.
Clark: It was really easy for me because I just have two songs! [Laughs] … But it was exciting.
Harada: It’s thrilling to record any show knowing this will be the standard that other productions of Cinderella will be listening to and comparing themselves to from now on.
How do you put your own stamp on such familiar characters?
Osnes: Cinderella is so well known that I think our job was just to portray what was written truthfully. That’s what I try to do. I just am going out there and saying what’s on the page truthfully, and apparently it’s working. [Laughs]
Clark: Luckily for us, the whole story has changed so much with [Douglas Carter Beane’s] book that it’s hard for us to be compared to any of our predecessors. It really feels like we’re creating roles in a new Rodgers and Hammerstein show with an old Rodgers and Hammerstein score.
Harada: To me it was a new script and we were working on it like it was a new play. We had to figure out our character arcs and what we were doing in every moment as these characters, not as the ones in the older versions or versions past.
Harris: Well, these parts, I think, are archetypes, but they’re not stereotypes. So there is a lot of room to interpret, and because they wanted it to be a multigenerational experience, the fairy tale element is very strong, but the cartoon element that could be attached to that is minimized.
What is your personal favorite moment in the show?
Harada: “Lovely Night.” To me, it’s the heart of the whole show. It’s what Cinderella’s family should always be like. It only happens in this one point in the show where we’re all on the same page, we’re all remembering this amazing event that happened together, and we all belong. I really feel like Cinderella, that all she ever wanted was to belong and in this one moment she kind of does. There’s so much joy in that number.
Harris: We enter into her world, which is a superior world. This beautiful moment, this lovely bubble where love is in the room, and we unite. I think the audience is so thrilled. It’s a turning point and a possibility … and then reality comes back and it’s like, “Oh, no, song’s over, quitting time. Back to work, missy.” [All four laugh]
Osnes: I do love that moment. The first thing that came to my mind is the transformation into the gold dress, because no one is expecting it. I love getting ready for that moment and throwing the rags into the air and being like, “Here I go, I’m gonna make magic.”
Clark: I would say the whole sequence from when the sun is starting to set and I show up in her yard, through to the end of the fight. It’s not really a moment — it’s a whole chunk.
What do you think Cinderella has brought to the Broadway season?
Osnes: I think it’s enchanting. That’s the word that comes to my mind. There’s enough of it that’s relevant to today. But there’s also something about it that’s completely timeless, with the story and with the old-school stage magic that we’re doing and the fairy tale that we’re telling. It’s kind of the best of all worlds.
Harris: And I think it’s a phrase Vicki uses, “the promise of possibility.” You go to bed at night and you think, “Tomorrow might be this.” It’s that yearning and straining for something else to happen.
Harada: It’s irony free. We are giving you our genuine hearts. It transports you back to a different time. Not that it’s not part of this time, because it is. But that these songs are just so beautiful and that we’re able to bring it to a new generation of audience members — that’s very, very special.
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