"Cinderella" at the Ordway Perfect for Those Looking for Magic

Cinderella and the Prince. Photo by Peter Myers.

Stunning. Lovely. Fun.
There’s no question, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “Cinderella” at the Ordway (playing now through January 1, 2012) is one the most enjoyable performances I’ve seen in town this year.  Don’t miss it, bring your daughters and sons (in princess and price wear), but don’t forget what you’re seeing.
This is no Disney Cinderella.
The good news is even if you grew up with – and loved – the Disney Cinderella, and not the 1965 TV Version of Cinderella with Ginger Rogers as the Queen and Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella as I did, you’ll still love this show.  You just won’t recognize the music.
If you remember, when I wrote about this musical, and its Jewish composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, just a few weeks ago, I mentioned my doubts that the Ordway could rise to the pedestal on which I’d lifted the 1965 version of this musical.  I had this same concern when reviewing the Ordway’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat at this time last year.  When you grow up with a certain version of something, its musicality, its characters, its presentation, sometimes it can be hard to love another rendition.
Well, I definitely wasn’t disappointed.
It seemed to me that Director Nick DeGruccio and Musical Director Raymond Berg (and probably their dozen staff members as well) not only watched the 1965 version (and probably the more recent remakes), but adopted its sensibilities and strengths into their performance, while updating its style and energy in a way that – dare I say it – improved on the Cinderella musical I had grown up with.
So what did I love so much?
From the very first moment you enter the Ordway for this show, you’re transported.  Dozens of little girls in adorable dresses and charming boys in suits.  A giant donated castle in the entrance to the theater.  Piano playing in the lobby. And the greeter at the door looked at little more, I can’t help it, royal.
The show starts with an introduction by Fairy Godmother Tonia Hughes, who brings nuance, entertainment and edge to someone who, in the original musical, was a pretty boring character for me.  Although I wasn’t really impressed with the script of the introduction (I thought it left out a few things essential to the back story), I realize that everyone in the audience knew the back story, so perhaps it wasn’t necessary.
Almost immediately the two leads, Cinderella (Jessica Fredrickson) and Prince Christopher (Jeremiah James) begin one of the heart-stopping duets with “The Sweetest Sounds” and the best part about it is watching them sing to each other without singing to each other because they haven’t met their true loves (each other) just yet.  I fell in love with their duets, and was thrilled to see them surface throughout the show – little tastes of heaven as these two phenomenal voices played off each other in beautiful harmony.
You know it’s a great show when there isn’t one actor or actress who steals it away from the others.  As with Tonia Hughes as the Fairy Godmother, the Ordway struck brilliance in casting Jessica Fredrickson in her first lead role at the Ordway, and Jeremiah James (you’ll remember him as the stunning Beast in Beauty and the Beast at the Ordway) as the Prince.

Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother. Photo by Peter Myers

Ms. Fredrickson’s voice took our breath away, and she had personality in spades.  In fact, that was another improvement over the 1965 TV version I grew up with – Ms. Fredrickson’s Cinderella was more complicated and interesting to watch than Lesley Ann Warren’s – a little bit more like Drew Barrymore’s Ever After than the timid paleness of her 1965 predecessor.
Jeremiah James was, well, Jeremiah James. Fabulous. Handsome (dare I say sexy in a review?). And he did perfect justice to the tunes from the 1965 production that were ringing in my head all day before the show, the hits that for me, make this musical – “Do I love you because you are beautiful” and “Ten Minutes Ago.”  Sigh.  Amazing, touching love songs that Mr. James just blew away with charm, style, and strong musical success.
And how could I not mention the stepsisters (Colleen Somerville and Andrea Wollenberg) and their gross mother (and Cinderella’s stepmother), played by Greta Grosch.  Hilarious comic relief, and perfectly cruel and hateful.  A fabulous addition to the show.
My date and I loved the costumes by Lynda L. Salsbury and her crew, especially the old school men’s pantaloons during the village scene, and, of course, Cinderella’s stunning ball gown.  The scenery was remarkable, and we were really blown away by each successive backdrop to the story.  However, the Village scenery felt a little familiar – perhaps a reuse of the set for Beauty and the Beast?  The choreography by Bob Richard was fun, especially a cute bit with feet when the Prince is looking to find someone to fit the glass slipper.
I mentioned the costumes, but I would be delinquent not to mention the “transformation” in the context of my praise.  The transformation of Cinderella from the pauper with her pumpkins, mice, cat, and dove, to Cinderella going to the ball with a carriage and crew was flawless, and the audience even applauded it in the middle of the song.  Such a challenge whenever you have to make magic on the stage, but like the Ordway did with Beauty and the Beast (are you noticing that I loved that production as well?), the magic here was not forced or fake, but rather perfectly timed with just enough pizzazz to do it justice without breaking the bank.
Any criticism?  Really, no.  Other than my request for a little more of an introduction at the beginning, I thoroughly enjoyed this show and would recommend it heartily to anyone seeking a little magic in their lives.  The performance was perfect for young kids, no doubt, but also was super fun for me and I’m getting old… well, at least I would be if I was living during Cinderella’s time…