Julie Andrews’s shoes are hard to fill. She has played so many iconic roles. Mary Poppins in the film of the same name. Maria in The Sound of Music. And even Cinderella in the Rogers & Hammerstein version of the story about an orphaned girl living a miserable existence who has a prince fall in love with her. It is her 1957 television appearance as Cinderella that has remained the premier performance of the girl with the glass slippers. Now a touring Broadway version of the Rogers & Hammerstein musical is spending a week in Montreal and I am not saying that it will make you forget Julie Andrews, but it is an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
This version is the cheeky update by playwright Douglas Carter Beane with several changes to the story you are familiar with and definitely more modern in tone and language. In his version there are plenty more laughs and even a couple of new characters. All the change with the aim of attracting a younger audience to the musical. Young girls were prominent in audience at this rainy Saturday matinee performance. These girls have grown up, like several generations of little girls have, adoring the story of the poor girl who turns the head of the handsome prince. But they are familiar with the animated version and to make them beg their parents to take them to the musical version there had to be some updates made.
Beane returned to the original version of the story written by Frenchman Charles Perrault. It involved some social issues (rich vs. poor) and one stepsister not being such a beast to Cinderella. That nicer stepsister, Gabrielle (Mimi Robinson), is also involved in a love affair with one of the new characters, Jean Michel (Chris Woods), a social activist who certainly is not a wealthy man. Their budding love affair is much to the chagrin of Gabrielle and Charlotte’s (Joanna Johnson) mother, Madame (Sarah Primmer). She wants one of her daughters to marry the wealthy young Prince Topher (Hayden Staynes).
There are loads more laughs in this version of Cinderella than the better known one. The character that is involved in a majority of the laughs is the quick witted and outspoken Charlotte. Joanna Johnson was perfectly cast in the role and demonstrated time and time again her superior comedic timing.
An eye catching aspect of the production is the costumes. Even the supporting actors’ colourful ball gowns and formal wear is something to behold. But it is those of the lead actors that really stand out. Plus those glass slippers! And then there is the quick change on-stage from rags to beautiful ball gowns that happens a couple of times with both Cinderella (Tatyana Lubov) or Elle as she was called most of the time and Marie or the Fairy Godmother (Leslie Jackson). It almost makes you believe in magic.
While the entire cast had solid voices it was that of Leslie Jackson as the fairy godmother that really stood out. Her superior voice really had a chance to stand out during the operatic section in the “There’s Music in You” number. I wasn’t the only one who noticed or thought as such as Jackson got a huge applause when she came out for the curtain call at the end of the musical.
At the core the musical remembers that everyone in the audience was there to witness some fairytale magic and Rogers & Hammerstein songs. While the songs like “Impossible”, “In My Own Little Corner”, “There’s Music in You” and “10 Minutes Ago” are not the strongest in the Rogers & Hammerstein catalogue they are still better than your average.
Overall, unlike some traveling productions of Broadway musicals this one is worth the price of admission.