Who knew Cinderella was such a confident go-getter?
In playwright Douglas Carter Beane’s contemporary update of Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1957 TV musical, Cinderella may still be a bedraggled floor-scrubber who’s constantly put upon by a stepmother for whom cruelty is sport and by stepsisters who have no tact. But she’s a self-starter with a yen for kindness and social justice. And she knows her value. When Cinderella catches the prince’s eye, she leaves little to chance, including her famous glass slipper.
Cinderella’s intentionality and relatable attitude are among the striking elements of director Mark Brokaw’s Tony-winning revival, which opened Tuesday for a weeklong run at Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theatre. The lush score is conducted sweetly by Valerie Gebert with a sweeping sense of romance. The music vividly guides our feelings from loneliness (“In My Own Little Corner”) to peppy hope (“The Prince Is Giving a Ball”).
The action takes place in set designer Anna Louizos’ seamlessly shifting worlds of the forest, court environs and the drab home where our future princess toils.
But in attitude and carriage, Ella, as she is sometimes called, looks like a college student who has been slumming for a summer. Embodied with a dancer’s lightness by Paige Faure, she’s not freighted with the drudgery of her daily life. She has her own inner light and does not need Venetian glass slippers or designer William Ivey Long’s breathtaking gown to shine (even though she kills in both).
Beane’s book, which offers several surprising twists, grounds the tale in social unrest. The young prince (Andy Huntington Jones) may be a brave slayer of dragons — when we meet him, he’s tangling with a preying mantis-like beast — but he’s out of his depth when it comes to governing. The policies of his regent Sebastian (Blake Hammond) have roiled the kingdom, and dreamy revolutionary Jean-Michel (Will Blum) is agitating to overthrow the unjust order. Sebastian suggests having a ball to divert the public as he leads a prince who is uncertain of himself (“Me, Who Am I?”).
Director Brokaw supplies the froufrou and folderol customary for a Broadway fairy tale, and the production is lavish, even if scaled down from its New York incarnation. Long’s costumes are a show unto themselves. Cinderella’s stepfamily — Beth Glover as mother Madame, and Kaitlyn Davidson and Aymee Garcia as the sisters — don eye-popping cotton-candy gowns. Fairy godmother Marie (Liz McCartney) flies in with all the color of a Siamese fighting fish.
That color is matched by the company’s vocal prowess. Faure and Jones, who have good chemistry, were pitch-perfect Tuesday as their melded voices on “Ten Minutes Ago” filled the theater with romance.
Metaphors abound in Beane’s update, in which the prince needs to break from his protector. And the person to help him has neither title nor property, just a clear head, a crystalline voice and a heart of gold. Oh, and she’s also good at sweeping away rubbish.