This afternoon my twins, their Gramma and I took in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella performed by Azusa Pacific University’s Department of Theater Arts. A friend is part of the behind-the-scenes production, but this was a show I would have been glad to attended even if we had no connections.
Most everyone knows Cinderella from the Disney animated movie. I’d read the rather disturbing Brothers Grimm version. A Rogers and Hammerstein musical contributed the songs used in the APU production. And there are many variations of the folktale that have been lost to time. It’s no so unusual to retell the story with different details and different morals.
The APU production used the book from a 2013 Broadway production and has updated some elements. For instance, this version adds in Esther storyline when Cinderella confronts Prince Topher (short for Christopher) with the economic injustice in the kingdom he has inherited. One of Cinderella’s sisters gives up her chance to go to be with the prince the because she’s fallen in love with another man. Cinderella forgives her stepmother and sisters for their abuse. It’s recognizably Cinderella without feeling predictable.
This was a college student production, so you might expect the cast to have some rough edges. That wasn’t the case, however. Whether the part was comedic, scheming, wise, earnest or pure, the actors pulled off their character’s role. While the music was pre-recorded, the singers performed with excellence live. Given a ball is a central scene, there was plenty of choreography and all the performers seemed to my amateur eye skilled and practiced. The only thing that pulled me out of the narrative even a touch was the obvious youth of the actors playing older roles. You can hardly expect students to be convincing as grandmothers or vizened regents.
The set included a projection in the background for showing key elements such as a giant the prince faught or the clock nearing midnight. Many of the backgrounds seemed ripped from a Disney animation. (They weren’t.) There were also bits of physical setting, such as trees sliding in from the wings to form a forest and cottages on wheels so that they could serve as both exterior and interior. The steps where Cinderella drops her shoes (twice!) were repurposed for other parts of the palace. Indeed the entire stage was dynamic and actors reshaped it on the fly as they entered and exited.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the costumes were magical. The story calls for Cinderella to be magically transformed from a scullery maid to a princess. This happens on stage not once, but twice. The second quickchange happens as Cinderella walks behind her fairy godmother and it’s a jaw-dropping effect. Several other characters transform, but the best are the fox and raccoon who go from puppets to fully-grown footmen and back to animals. My daughter met the raccoon at Chick-fil-A after the show and was a bit star-struck.
My son had not been happy to go, but he spent most of the musical at the edge of his seat. He enjoyed the jokes, the physical humor and even most of the songs. Both of my children responded to the “kissing scenes” the way Fred Savage did in The Princess Bride. But we all came away glad to have driven out to Azusa to see it.