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“Cinderella” The Musical: A Review

January 21, 2009


Event: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella”
Venue: Esplanade Theatre
Run: 2nd Jan – 22nd Jan 2009

(Author’s note: This post is way overdue.)

“Cinderella”, the delightful musical written by Rodgers & Hammerstein, plays at the Esplanade Theatre till 22nd Jan (which is not many more days to be honest), and it is a musical that was originally written for television, and not the stage.

Julie Andrews was the first to play the lead role of Cinderella in the TV musical, and the airing of “Cinderella” back in 1957 garnered a record-breaking viewership of 107 million viewers!

Now “Cinderella” could perhaps be considered one of R&H’s lesser-known works, as compared to the big five of “Oklahoma!”, “South Pacific”, “The King and I”, “The Sound of Music” and “Carousel”.

I personally had not been familiar with this musical until I listened to the original TV cast recording a few weeks prior to catching the musical. I was glad that I did so before going to theatre, cos I’m sure it definitely added to my enjoyment of the show.

First Impressions

The first thing that struck me was that the overture was markedly different from the original CD recording.

I was expecting something fast, lively, and jumpy, to the tune of “The Stepsisters’ Lament”, which was basically the main motif for the musical.

The orchestrator for this production opted for a largo style (of which particular melody I was not sure), which perhaps fit in nicely with the opening scene of Cinderella (played by Lea Salonga) scrubbing the floor of the stepmother’s home.

Fairy Tales Come To Life

If you want to see fairy tales come to life, then “Cinderella” is the musical to catch.

Remember I mentioned that the sets to “Wicked” in London were fantastic? Well, the sets and props to “Cinderella” were amazing as well. And I mean AMAZING.

I’d have to say I was thoroughly impressed with the way they staged “Cinderella”. The props that they used were just magnificent, especially the carriage!

I can’t imagine how the fairy tale could have been staged any better.

(Oh, and there were a few clever magic effects that were done throughout the musical, like chairs moving across the stage on their own, or Cinderella’s dirty clothes suddenly turning into a resplendent ball gown…which fit in really nicely with the whole “fairy tale” mood. Excellent stuff.)

Music, Lyrics & Book

It’s always fascinating to be able to delve into a new Richard Rodgers score, and I enjoyed every single minute of it.

I must say the music to “Cinderella” was absolutely brilliant (what else would you expect me to say right?)…typical Richard Rodgers-melodies in every sense of the word. All the tunes bore the distinctive trademark of Richard Rodgers, e.g. the chromaticism, the seemingly simple yet profoundly brilliant melodic construction, the unbelievably catchy rhythmic nature of some of the tunes.

The chirpy strain of “Why would a fella want a girl like her?” from the song “The Stepsisters’ Lament” served as the main motif of the musical, appearing at various points in the show.

My favourite melody would definitely have to be the immensely romantic tune to “Ten Minutes Ago”, which not only was in my opinion the most memorable tune in the musical…it was also used at the climax of the show (more on this later).

The impossibly (pardon the pun) catchy “Impossible” also served as one of the other main motifs of the musical, and this song was particularly important as its message was the main thrust of the musical – and that is that “impossible things are happening every day.”

Another tune which I enjoyed was “A Lovely Night”. It’s one of those tunes which seems so simple, but yet you know that only a genius like Richard Rodgers can come up with it.

As for the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein’s…well, let me just say that if you wanted to get an idea of how much of a Broadway lyrical genius Hammerstein was, then you would do well to start with the lyrics from “Cinderella”.

The most incredible example would have to be “The Stepsisters’ Lament”, because of the sheer genius of it all. One only needs to pay close attention to the lyrics to appreciate the sheer wit and irony that went into the construction of the lyrics.

Ten Minutes Ago” is also another good example of excellent lyric-writing thanks to the incredible use of inner rhymes in the first verse, as explained in one of my earlier blog posts (here). But then again, it’s not only just this song. One reason why Oscar Hammerstein is in my opinion the greatest Broadway lyricist ever is because of his ability to constantly craft beautiful inner rhymes in many of his songs…and make perfectly good sense at the same time.

The lyrics to “The Royal Dressing Room Scene” were also extremely enjoyable.

You see, that’s where Oscar Hammerstein sets himself apart from the rest – his lyrics are not just there because the melodies need words to them…his lyrics are actually highly entertaining in themselves due to their genius in both the meaning and the rhymes.

Well, if there were one fault I could pick with the musical, it would be that the book could have used a bit of fine-tuning at certain instances. I can’t remember exactly what instances those were, but there were times at which I felt the musical wasn’t moving anywhere, perhaps due to the book.

Theatre Magic (Climax)

I firmly believe that of all the Disney fairy tales, “Cinderella” holds a special place in every girl’s heart.

It is the quintessential female fantasy – that some day her Prince will come, and they will catch each other’s gaze at the ball, and he will ask her for a dance, and they will uncontrollably fall truly madly deeply in love, and he will sweep her off her feet and propose to her…and they will live happily ever after in blissful marriage.

Yes, this is every girl’s secret fantasy.

And “Cinderella” the musical captured every aspect of that perfectly.

The climax of the entire musical, in my opinion, was when the Prince took Cinderella out into the courtyard to dance, and they sang the song “Ten Minutes Ago” to reflect their amazement at how they have inexplicably fallen in love with one another even though they’d only met ten minutes ago.

That was definitely the defining moment of the musical.

And at that moment, I distinctly remember hearing every single female heart in the audience sigh in sheer envy at the magical scene that was displayed before them.

The romantic tension in that scene was so thick you couldn’t cut it with a knife.

Yes, it was that powerful, that scene. But only to females.

Plus the fact that the Prince was tall and good-looking, and dressed smartly in his princely attire, and Lea Salonga was dressed resplendently in her gown which the fairy god mother gave to her by magic, and the music to “Ten Minutes Ago” was just supreme…I tell you, this is theatre magic at its finest.

This is the reason why we still go to the theatre.

In a nutshell, “Cinderella” reminds us all once again of the magic of musical theatre…which is something that movies or television might not be able to fully replicate.

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