Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella’ transforms with help from NEPA native
Cinderella and her prince finally found their happily ever after on Broadway in 2013 after decades of televised productions, tours and community theater. And they did so in an updated story from Wilkes-Barre-born Douglas Carter Beane, who invigorated Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical for a new audience.
Now, the fairy tale’s national tour comes to cast its magic at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave., where Broadway Theater League of Northeastern Pennsylvania presents five performances from Friday through Sunday.
“The minute the Broadway version was happening and going successfully, people were wanting it for their theaters across America. … The story had enough of a twist and relevance — and now, since the most recent election, even more relevance — that it was wonderful,” Beane said recently by phone. “We did one year of touring, and a lot of the cities rebooked it.”
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II originally created “Cinderella” for television, and an estimated 107 million people watched Julie Andrews play the heroine when CBS broadcast it live in 1957. The work eventually hit stages around the world and returned to television twice more before reaching Broadway for the first time with the help of Beane.
The five-time Tony Award nominee, who grew up near Reading and who has a home in Wyoming County, initially said no to producer Robyn Goodman when she approached him about working on the project. Beane thought “Cinderella” had a great score but that its story bore a message he didn’t want to share with his young daughter or nieces.
He headed to his home on Lake Carey over Christmas and happened across the original French version of “Cinderella.” He discovered how much it differed from what he knew of the story, as later versions cut out what he called “wonderful parts” in which Cinderella met the prince several times and affected change in him.
“She brought kindness to the court, and one of the stepsisters turned out to be her friend and helped her,” Beane said.
He told Goodman he’d found a way in to the story, but he needed more music to turn “Cinderella” into a two-act musical. In their long careers, Rodgers and Hammerstein created few songs they didn’t use, Beane said, but he and music arranger David Chase went through song fragments and notes at the duo’s library and crafted new works from the masters’ ideas. New songs such as “Me, Who Am I?” join such favorites as “In My Own Little Corner” and “Impossible/It’s Possible.”
“It really was whipping out a Ouija,” Beane said. “It’s all their work. We just arranged (new pieces).”
The basics of the classic tale remain: an orphaned girl, Ella, toils for her wicked stepmother, falls in love with a prince, attends a grand ball with the help of a fairy godmother and — spoiler alert — lives happily ever after. But Beane incorporated the “social satire” element of the French version throughout, along with other plot points, including making the prince, Topher, an orphan like Ella, and giving him help from a court member, whom Beane turned into a negative influence. He took a formerly unnamed stepsister — who now helps Ella — and named her Gabrielle after his daughter.
A piece of the “Cinderella” ballet also snuck in, showing Ella’s kindness toward a homeless woman, who turns out to be her fairy godmother.
“That was sort of just irresistible. … Isn’t that just a fabulous lesson to be teaching your kids?” Beane said.
Beane has heard from parents about how the show “was a great lesson for the kids, and it’s not shoved down their throat. It’s done with humor.”
“There was a wonderful review … which was very meaningful to me, which is about how happy (the reviewer) was to take her daughter to the show and that the lesson of kindness and tolerance and acceptance and different points of view coming to a common conclusion were meaningful to her,” said Beane, who hopes to make it to Scranton for part of the show’s run. “And the kids just enjoyed it. And it was about how a hero can be a hero through sensitivity, through kindness. It was my intent.”
— caitlin heaney west
If you go
What: “Cinderella,” presented
by Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania
When: Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Where: Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
Details: The show runs about 2 hours, 10 minutes, including an intermission,
and is recommended for all ages. Tickets are $37 to $65, available at the box office, ticketmaster.com and 800-745-3000.