Touring – reviewed at Regent Theatre, Melbourne
A jewel-toned joy, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella transports audiences back to the magic of Broadway’s Golden Age, when an evening of musical theatre meant a magical discovery of new and wondrous work.
Little known in Australia, Cinderella boasts the marvellous melodies of Richard Rodgers and the heartfelt lyrics of cockeyed optimist Oscar Hammerstein II. There is an inevitable familiarity and easy accessibility to the score, especially when performed as beautifully as it is here. Australian musical supervisor Guy Simpson maintains a reliably high standard, with Simon Holt deservedly stepping up to the podium as musical director and drawing a lush sound from an orchestra of 14 musicians.
Having begun life as an extraordinarily successful 1957 television special, Cinderella floats into the new millennium with a smartly re-written book by witty playwright Douglas Carter Beane for the show’s 2013 Broadway premiere. Pumpkin-style coaches and glass slippers share the stage with social justice, equality and kindness, the traditional and the radical neatly balanced and deftly blended to a gently persuasive whole.
The sass and socialism of Beane’s book give the feel of animated Disney movie musicals, which adults can enjoy whether or not they are accompanying children. Beane’s flair extends to fleshing out the characters well beyond storybook archetypes. Rather than just superficially falling in love at first waltz, Prince Topher and Ella genuinely fall for each other, and she shakes the shingles from his eyes to illustrate the plight of his people.
Director Mark Brokaw follows Beane’s lead, wisely avoiding any hint of pantomime or caricature. Working with a uniformly impeccable cast, resident director Luke Joslin draws joyous performances from the company, with lashings of swoon-worthy romance thrown in for good measure.
While there was never any hope of the design of Cinderella (or any musical) being on par with the previous resident at the Regent, the show has an appealing splendour all of its own, with the picture book design of Anna Louizos fluidly unfurling a characterful set of scenes, artfully lit by lighting designer Kenneth Posner and associate lighting designer Trudy Dalgliesh.
Master costume designer William Ivey Long outdoes himself not just with gooey gowns and regal robes, but with a host of how-did-they-do-that fast changes in plain sight that are sure to leave mouths agape.
An utter delight in the title role, Shubshri Kandiah sings like a dream, also scoring welcome laughs and completely avoiding saccharine sweetness.
Ainsley Melham is charming rather than Charming, bringing a loveable sense of unworldly innocence to Topher and creating palpable chemistry with Kandiah. The pair’s 11 o’clock duet ‘Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?’ is truly one for the ages.
Unrecognisable at first as the Beggar Woman crazy Marie, Silvie Paladino is absolutely in her element as the high flying fairy godmother, beaming with love as she soars across the heavens in ‘It’s Possible’ and bringing down the house in act two with ‘There’s Music in You’.
Seen far too rarely on the stage, let alone the musical stage, Tina Bursill relishes the brittle edge of Madame’s devilish tongue. Ably partnered by Bianca Bruce (as dopey Charlotte) and Matilda Moran (as passionate Gabrielle), Bursill and co reach their comic zenith in act two with camptastic piano singalong “A Lovely Night.”
Todd McKenney plays it straight to terrific effect as self-serving royal advisor Sebastian. Josh Gardiner brings ready panache to the relatively thankless role of social advocate Jean-Michel. In fine voice, Daniel Belle provides sturdy support as town crier Lord Pinkleton.
Cinderella may not have the sexy edge of its current local competitors, but it fittingly serves its place as a delectable treat for lovers of traditional musical theatre.
Presented by Opera Australia and Crossroads Live, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella plays at Regent Theatre, Melbourne. For tickets, click here.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella plays at Lyric Theatre, Brisbane from 5 August 2022. For tickets, click here.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella plays at Sydney Lyric, Sydney from 23 October 2022, For tickets, click here.
Man in Chair reviewed the original Broadway production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
Photos: #1, #3, #5, #6 Jeff Busby; #2, #4 Ben Fon