Rodgers + Hammerstein’s 2013 version Cinderella on Broadway is a perfectly enjoyable and entertaining — albeit purposely superficial — take on the timeless fairy tale classic.
Many of the elements of the original story are features in this remake, with the main character Ella (the nickname Cinder is given by her evil stepmother for all of the hours she slaves in front of a fireplace) as the punching bag for her step-mother and step sisters. With the help of her Fairy Godmother, Cinderella is, on two occasions, given to the stroke of midnight to meet the Prince of her dreams. Only in this version, she must set into motion a meeting between a well-meaning revolutionary, Jean-Michel, and Topher, the Prince, because the poor are being swept under the rug by the Prince’s oppressive regime.
The decision to make a socioeconomic statement is curious, partly because of how cantankerous the issue has become in recent elections, but also because it only makes a feeble attempt at raising and then ultimately dismissing the issue. The subplot is not critical to the story and therefore not really needed. Jean-Michel’s character is also used as a romantic foil to Gabrielle, one of the step sisters. Cinderella’s other step-sister, Charlotte, is cartoonish and far too over the top, and ends up irritating more than endearing herself to her audience. The same could be said about stepmother Madame and Topher, though his character still has some charm to his “aw-shucks” attitude.
But the relevant focus remains: Do we care? Are the members of the audience really there for a sweeping commentary on Marxist theory? Does it matter that Cinderella’s step-sisters and mother being reduced to mere caricatures? Are we at all bothered by the Prince being a total airhead that can slay a dragon but doesn’t bother to read what orders he decrees?
The answer is obviously no. Whatever shortcomings there are in the play pale in comparison to the spirit of the message. We’re told that hope springs eternal; to never give up on dreams; that impossible is nothing. It’s a perfect antidote for anyone in need of a splash of youthful exuberance. Fairy tales aren’t meant to be insightful, introspective and penetrating looks into the human psyche. They are meant to whisk you away to a fantasy world where every wish in any moment is a possibility. And we do leave the theater feeling as if we’ve experienced the play, and at least slightly more optimistic on life than when we first entered.
Any other glaring flaws are dulled by the masterful performance of Laura Osnes, who deservingly won a Tony for her performance as the lead character (Osnes will be replaced pop star Carly Rae Jepsen in February). Her all-American good looks and enchanting voice make her an ideal Cinderella, as she effortlessly conveys the boundless optimism while being as disarming as she is elegant.
In other words, Osnes’ take on Cinderella is a whimsical one, which is a microcosm for the play. Theatergoers: Leave charmed. Be happy. Don’t overthink it.