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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a surprisingly modern take on a very old tale

Well-tread story gets a fresh new spin thanks to Douglas Carter Beane's book

One supposes when it came to naming this version of Cinderella producers were going for name recognition, and ensuring audiences knew this was not the same story from the company Walt built.

While popularized in the 1950 Disney animated feature, the Cinderella story is centuries old, with the earliest dating back to China from 860 A.D.. And while they all tell the same basic story, it wasn’t until Charles Perrault’s 1697 version where pumpkins, fairy-godmother and glass slippers were introduced. Since then, these elements have played an important role in the story, including the version currently at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

This Cinderella still features all of Perrault’s iconic moments, but it is all wrapped inside Douglas Carter Beane’s new book. It is still story of love and transformation, but more than simply one of rags to riches and overcoming adversity, Beane injects the possibility of more important changes. Think of it as a romantic comedy with a social justice heart.

Without wanting to spoil its many surprises, suffice to say Beane does this by combining the classic love story with a keen sense of fun, and even a tiny bit of subversion.

Don’t let this newfound sensibility fool you though because, like the truly great children’s cartoons, it plays on multiple levels. There is enough here for the adults to appreciate, as there are for the children. The response from the audience, especially in act two, is testament to this show’s ability to appeal to both demographics. The reactions from the young princess seated next to us confirmed it.

While Beane’s book is the star of this show, it also takes actors capable of effectively working the new with the old. Tatyana Lubov gives a straightforward performance as Cinderella, appearing so confident in the role you can’t help but cheer her on. Hayden Stanes brings his rich voice and slightly awkward manner to Prince Topher. Stanes is so endearing he makes this monarch with an identity crisis both quirky and real.

Chris Woods is so delightfully earnest as Jean-Michel you will wish Beane had given him more stage time, and both Mimi Robinson and Joanna Johnson have great fun as Cinderella’s re-imagined stepsisters. As Cinderella’s fairy-godmother, Leslie Jackson has a beautiful soprano voice.

Some sound issues in the ensemble numbers, a couple minor wardrobe malfunctions, and some visible backstage magic on opening night were disappointing. They were made up for though by William Ivey Long’s spectacular costume changes which elicited gasps from the audience, and Kenneth Posner’s beautiful lighting design.

With its well-tread story, giving Cinderella a fresh spin is all but a necessity these days. Thanks to Beane’s new book it is all done with surprisingly modern and engaging results. This may very well be the first time I actually cared about Cinderella finding her Prince.

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. New book by Douglas Carter Beane. Original book by Oscar Hammerstein II. Tour directed by Gina Rattan. A Work Light Productions and Broadway Across Canada presentation. On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver until April 16. Visit for tickets and information.

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