BWW Reviews: CINDERELLA at the 5th Avenue
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by Jay Irwin
It's a small wonder that Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" keeps getting dusted off and trotted out every few years. A small wonder due to the fact that there are so many versions of it. And I mean versions of the R&H musical with numbers being removed and others being added in from other shows. And while I felt the 5th Avenue's current production, directed by Brandon Ivie, really only came alive in Act Two, it's not the worst production I've seen … but not the best either.
Originally written and produced as a TV special for Julie Andrews in 1957, the show is your basic Cinderella story. We all know it … Beautiful girl; dead father; wicked Stepfamily; Fairy Godmother; ball; Prince; glass slipper; happily ever after (hope I didn't spoil the ending for you). But over the years it's gone through many overhauls to try and keep it fresh and interesting (which is not necessarily and easy task as it's pretty dated and tired). In 1965 they redid another TV special, this time with Lesley Ann Warren and with a few additional R&H songs. Then in 1997 another TV special for Disney with Brandy and Whitney Houston and with even more Rodgers and Hammerstein (or sometimes Rodgers and Hart) numbers replacing others. Plus add countless stagings and tours each with their own spin (including a stunning one back in 2000 and 2001 with Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Cinderella, Eartha Kitt as the Fairy Godmother and Paolo Montalban as the Prince) and you end up with so many variations on this familiar theme.
So which version can you expect at the 5th Avenue? I'd have to say it's somewhere between the 1965 and 1997 versions and then with it's own little twists and orchestrations thrown in for good measure. Jennifer Paz as the eponymous heroine has a fantastic voice but I felt had problems connecting with the part or others on stage until Act Two. But the same could be said for everyone in Act One. The pace and structure just felt stiff and forced until we got to the ball. Brandon O'Neill as the Prince is handsome, gallant and swoon-worthy and with a beautiful voice to match Paz, everything the Prince should be. Kendra Kassebaum as the Godmother has the pipes to pull off the role (or any role for that matter) I just wish she looked as if she were having more fun up there. Nick Garrison and Sarah Rudinoff as the Stepsisters were definitely having fun and their big number in Act Two (complete with a somewhat unorthodox reprise) nearly stopped the show. The always-stunning Suzanne Bouchard is a force to be reckoned with as the Stepmother, although I could have used a little more variation with her character. And Greg McCormick Allen was delightful as the royal steward put upon to make sure everything comes off without a hitch at the ball. But as I said, as much as I enjoyed these characters, they seemed a bit lost in Act One.
All except for Allen Fitzpatrick and Cynthia Jones, who were lively, focused, connected and completely on right from the moment they set foot on stage as the King and Queen. Funny, caring, and in touch with the characters, when Fitzpatrick and Jones came out I thought, "Finally, the shows has some heart to it." Odd that it should come from these two characters.
So is this production worth it? If you had asked me at intermission I would have said to go if the kids want to see it. But luckily the magic and the show came alive in Act Two and made it a lovely holiday diversion.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion