Review by Tim Garratt
Originally written for television, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella debuted in 1957, with Julie Andrews playing the title role. Following two more TV versions and a host of stage iterations, it finally made its way to Broadway in 2013, in a musical adaptation that featured a new book by playwright and screenwriter Douglas Carter Beane, and direction by Mark Brokaw.
Almost a decade after its successful Broadway premiere, this production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella has arrived in Australia. It’s now playing the Sydney Lyric Theatre, after seasons in Melbourne and Brisbane, in a production by Opera Australia and John Frost for Crossroads Live Australia.
Like the Cinderella story with which we’re all familiar, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s take on the fairy tale is about a young woman (Shubshri Kandiah), whose fairy godmother (Silvie Paladino) helps her to fulfil her wish of attending a Ball to celebrate the birthday of the prince (Ainsley Melham), overcoming her oppressive stepmother (Tina Bursill). The stepsisters are there (though both Matilda Moran’s and Bianca Bruce’s characters are far more amiable than those typically included in any Cinderella retelling), as well as new characters conceived by Beane, including a fervent revolutionary (Josh Gardiner).
While this production is, in most respects, faithful to the well-known fairy tale, Beane has worked to imbue his version of Cinderella with greater depth and contemporary pertinence. Here, the socially conscious title character alerts Prince Topher to injustices suffered by the kingdom’s residents because of decisions made by his Lord Chancellor (Nicholas Hammond), who has ruled throughout the Prince’s youth. Armed with this knowledge, Prince Topher ends tyrannical governance and establishes a democracy.
Despite its infusion with a contemporary flavour, Beane’s book remains light and offers audiences an evening of whimsical escapism, providing precisely the kind of experience one would expect in a production of a Cinderella story. On the design front, this includes plush costumes by William Ivey Long (who won the Tony Award for his work here), and a set by Anna Louizos, fittingly reminiscent of a pop-up fairy tale book. Beautiful lighting choices by Kenneth Posner augment the overall visual impact of the production, and there’s even a little stage magic for audiences of all ages to relish.
The score includes the music originally penned for the 1957 television broadcast, and four other Rodgers + Hammerstein pieces (orchestrations are by Danny Troob). The music in Cinderella may be lesser known than that of the pair’s most revered musicals, but it’s certainly enjoyable and in this production, performed by a sizeable band (led by Simon Holt), sounds lush. It’s also accompanied throughout by some terrific choreography by Josh Rhodes (particularly the sequences in the ballroom near the end of the first act.)
Playing the title character, Kandiah is absolutely delightful, the role fitting her as impeccably as Cinderella’s glass slippers. Tasked with performing some of the show’s standout numbers (including ‘In my own little corner’), she sings each of these wonderfully, and brings palpable warmth to her portrayal. Opposite Kandiah, Melham is the perfect choice for Prince Topher. He’s innately affable and his tenor expertly handles each of Topher’s solos.
In fact, there’s strength across the board in the principal cast. Bursill, one of Australia’s most accomplished stage and screen actors, makes a welcome return to musical theatre as Madame, Cinderella’s vain and villainous stepmother, and it’s inspired casting. Hammond hits the mark as Lord Chancellor, and playing his second-in-command, Lord Pinkleton, Daniel Belle contributes one of the finest vocal performances of the evening.
Regarding the vocals, Paladino is unsurprisingly another standout, playing the fairy godmother who proves that books should never be judged by their covers. Moran and Bruce are both strong as the somewhat-revamped stepsisters, with Bruce a crowd favourite as she demonstrates her flair for comedy. Gardiner rounds off the excellent leading troupe as lovestruck rebel Jean-Michel.
Sydney audiences have been spoilt for choice when it comes to musicals in 2022, and Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is yet another handsomely staged production that foregrounds some of Australia’s most talented performers. Dynamic, grand, and highly entertaining, it’s an old-school musical theatre experience that is likely to win over Sydney audiences of all ages during the coming holiday season.
CINDERELLA – SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre, The Star
Season: Playing now until 29 January 2023
Performance Times: Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm & 6pm (Performance times vary weekly)
Prices: From $69.00 (Transaction fees apply)
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 136 100