Thursday, September 24, 2015

Broadway Buzz: Bringing Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella to Broadway

One of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most beloved scores was not written for the stage, but for television: Cinderella. First aired on CBS in 1957, with a young Julie Andrews in the title role, it features such classic songs as “Ten Minutes Ago,” “In My Own Little Corner,” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?,” among others. “Rodgers and Hammerstein tapped into a timelessness in their score that has made people revisit it time and time again,” says Ted Chapin, president of organization that bears the songwriters’ names, “ it’s been remade twice for television; it’s been done in the theater in various ways.” And now, it’s made its way to Broadway and a national tour.

Chapin asked Robyn Goodman, whose credits include the Tony Award-winning musicals Avenue Q and In the Heights, if she wanted to produce a new version of Cinderella.  A fan of the Lesley Anne Warren version, she said yes, but with a caveat; Goodman told Chapin she would only do the show if Cinderella “can save the Prince as much as he saves her. She’s gotta be a more active character.”  Chapin agreed and Goodman hired playwright Douglas Carter Beane, writer of cheeky comedies like The Little Dog Laughed and the hit stage version of the cult film Xanadu, to adapt the book. In addition to making Cinderella more active, Beane wanted to make the Prince less an ideal and more of a human being. “He needs somebody in his life to show him the right way,” explains Beane.

While many critics have commented on how Beane’s humorous script is revisionist, the playwright says he went back to the original source, Charles Perrault’s 1697 fairy tale, for inspiration. It was a thinly veiled satire of French politics, says Beane: “The court was overwhelmed with ridicule and sarcasm and Cinderella was kind, and brought kindness to the court.” Also, in the original version, Cinderella met the Prince several times and “actually saved the Prince from the viciousness of the court.” And, finally, in the original story, “one of the evil stepsisters, turned out to be okay; she helped Cinderella and even had a boyfriend,” says Beane. “And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! That’s a Rodgers and Hammerstein second couple.’ Will Parker and Ado Annie, right there!”

In writing the new script, Beane says “it was all about tone. I knew that an audience, coming to see the show had to have a good time. And, they have seen so much; they have seen Wicked, they have seen Shrek, they have seen Fractured Fairy Tales. All these things have happened since this television version.” Beane says he knew “I had to have a little snark to it and I took inspiration from Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics. He was using contemporary colloquial speech in these situations. ‘Why would a fella want a girl like her?’”

Since Rodgers and Hammerstein had only written songs for a 90 minute television musical, Beane scoured their catalogue for material which could fill out the score for a full-length stage version. He sat down with The Complete Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein, and circled any lyric he thought might fit: “I found lyrics that corresponded to the story I was telling and prayed that Richard Rodgers had written music for it!” Working closely with Bruce Pomahac, the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization’s music director, Beane found several little-known gems; among them, “Me, Who am I?,” a cut song from Me and Juliet, which was given to Prince Topher, and “There’s Music in You,” from the film Main Street to Broadway, which the Fairy Godmother sings.

Director Mark Brokaw says he was immediately taken by Douglas Carter Beane’s approach to the material: “The first thing I thought was that Doug had done a fantastic job of taking the traditional story of Cinderella that everybody knows and keeping to the heart of it, but upending our expectations of who the characters were and how the story unraveled.” Brokaw has created a lavish production, where Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother magically transform from rags to ball gowns, not once, but twice, aided by William Ivey Long’s Tony Award-winning costume design. The result not only delights children, but adults, he says: “There really is something in it to appeal to everyone.”

And, after over a year on Broadway, and with a national tour booked for close to two years, producer Robyn Goodman thinks this melding of superb traditional songwriting and a playful new script has found a sweet spot for contemporary family audiences: “I want those mothers out there to know that it is the classic Cinderella; the glass slipper is there and he has to find her, and the Fairy Godmother and the Wicked Stepmother are there. It just has a slight modern spin on it, so that girls feel that princesses can save the world; that they are proactive, they’re compassionate and that the basic theme of the show is kindness.”


Monday, September 21, 2015

Broadway Buzz: Creating the magical world of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella

How do you create a magical world for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella? William Ivey Long, who won the Tony Award for his costumes for the show, says you have to think of it as a period piece: “It’s a fairy tale. In fact, that’s the period: fairy tale.” Long has designed 330 sumptuous period costumes for Cinderella, which is presented in Anna Louizos’ equally sumptuous forest-inspired setting. “The scale of this show is big, because it’s a grand fairy tale,” says Louizos. “This is not story-theater. It’s a Broadway show.”

Both designers say they had long discussions with director Mark Brokaw for this contemporary telling of the traditional story, which features Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic songs with a cheeky new script by playwright Douglas Carter Beane. “Mark wanted to create a whole new world that was unique to this production,” says Louizos. “Nature was very important; the thought that we would see Cinderella in the forest became a prominent component of the design.”

Louizos says she and Brokaw sifted through a lot of visual material to share their emotional response to this version of Cinderella. “There was this image that Mark kept going back to; one of the first things he showed me – I think it was from a fashion shoot – a photograph of chandeliers hanging in a forest.” In addition, Louizos says they were both struck by another photo: “There were these depictions of a home, but the ceiling was gone and you could see the trees and vines were creeping into the house.”

So, Louizos quite literally brought Cinderella into the woods. Cinderella, her stepmother and stepsisters live in a cottage, both surrounded by and invaded by the forest. “You can always sense nature around the house,” she says, “even the vines are crawling up and covering up some of the wallpaper.” When the scene shifts to the Prince’s palace: “It’s a more majestic depiction of nature. The trees that form the arches are kind of a silvery brown. I wanted to give it a slight metallic feel, or a shimmery feel to it.” And, of course, there are chandeliers in Louizos’ forest castle, just like the picture which served as inspiration.

William Ivey Long’s costumes – which reference medieval knights, the Flemish painter Breughel, and the French court of Catherine de Medici – are also inspired by nature. One of the main colors he uses is leaf green. “The whole world of Cinderella takes place in the forest,” he says, showing ink costume sketches in his Tribeca studio. “There are dragons, and, of course, going and collecting mushrooms. And when you start with the forest, that means everything’s growing, and flora and fauna, and so, by extension, butterflies and moths.”

Of course, butterflies and moths transform from caterpillars, and transformation is a big theme in Cinderella. Long has designed jaw-dropping costume changes in both acts, where Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother go from rags to ball gowns in the blink of an eye, right in front of the audience. How are these changes accomplished? Long won’t say: “I would have to kill you, if I told you,” he laughs, but he shows his initial sketches of how Cinderella’s costume morphs: “The idea is that all the changing is done by a magic wand spinning her around. So, I tried to include the spinning in all these sketches, so you constantly saw movement. And doesn’t that sort of look like you’re whipping up a merengue?”

Anna Louizos, of course, with the help of smoke and lights, has a pumpkin transform into a carriage. And her forest constantly shifts and reconstitutes itself into new settings. She says the basic idea of putting Cinderella in a world filled with moving trees has captivated audiences. “There’s something so breathtaking about seeing nature onstage,” she explains. “You can go outside the door of the theater and there’s nature, but somehow when you put it onstage, it creates a different visceral response in audience members.”

And, Louizos adds, she thinks this version of Cinderella is a fairy tale that will appeal to everyone: “We approached it as any other brand new musical. It’s not a children’s show; it’s a Broadway show that adults should be able to appreciate and enjoy and be entertained just as much as children would.”