Despite loving this musical since childhood, I had no great desire to see it on Broadway. I don’t get to see many shows on the Great White Way, so whenever I get the chance to go I try to see musicals I’ve never seen. As such, I am completely indebted to my show buddy for choosing to see the revival of Cinderella when we went to NYC a few weeks ago, because otherwise I never would have known just how amazing this production is.
Though this is actually the first Broadway production of the musical, it was considered a revival when Tony nominations came around, which was possibly due to how much was changed for this incarnation. In my opinion a revival should maintain the spirit of the original piece while introducing something new and fresh into the experience, and this version of Cinderella does just that. Specifically what it has done is make the characters more intricate; the story more engaging; and infused a much more feminist sensibility into the narrative without losing the charm or magic that Cinderella’s story needs to have.
While the characters still perform their recognizable parts in the story, they are much less archetypal and more natural. Ella isn’t just nice for niceness’s sake; she has a strong conviction that everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and justice, which is why she is so nice. Prince Christopher Rupert Windermere Vladimir Karl Alexander Francois Reginald Lancelot Herman Gregory James (usually called Topher for short) isn’t flawlessly charming; he’s naive and trying to understand how to be a truly great king. The Fairy Godmother doesn’t just grant wishes because it’s her job; she returns the generosity to Cinderella that she showed to others. Instead of just being fairytale archetypes, the characters have their own personalities and motivations so that all their actions come from who they are rather than what purpose they serve in the story.
The way the story progresses so naturally from these characters is the main reason that it’s so much more engaging. As an audience we didn’t simply see the story we’ve always known being performed live; we saw a story unfold before our eyes which was familiar but fresh. The Broadway production also added in more political discourse with unrest in the kingdom, stemming from the treatment of the poor at the hands of the royalty. This not only made the story more intricate, it also made the romance more believable, because it was something which brought the two lovers together. Prince Topher wants to be a good king to his people but is disconnected from them. Cinderella knows what’s going on in the kingdom and has strong convictions about how the people could and should be treated. This discussion brings them together and makes their bond much more than a romantic fantasy; it makes it an actual relationship.
For these reasons and more, the story naturally became more feminist. Cinderella being a character rather than an archetype and the romance actually having a basis in more than just fantasy made her so much more worthwhile. Overall, she was much more active in this incarnation than I’ve ever seen before. For anyone who ever thought that a feminist re-telling of a classic tale needs to completely change the spirit of the story: this musical proves that it doesn’t. Cinderella remains hopeful, kind, and generous, but she doesn’t wait for the story to take care of her. Instead she makes things happen for herself and has her own motivations which include romance but aren’t solely focused on it. Cinderella, along with the other characters, has a distinct personality and is her own person. It was a true joy to see her character given so much more weight without changing the kind of person she has always been.
The production itself was pure magic as well. The sets were lovely, dreamy even, and intricately conveyed the fantastical land of the story. Similarly the costumes were lush and romantic and downright magical at times. Every cast member did a beautiful job with their roles, especially Laura Osnes as Cinderella. There’s a reason she’s barely been out of work for a minute since she caught audiences’ attention as Sandy in the 2007 revival of Grease. She is a joy to watch on stage, plain and simple. Not only talented, she clearly loves performing and that joy pours out from her at all times on stage.
I cannot recommend this show highly enough. Go see it on Broadway if you can. If not, I feel it’s almost guaranteed to tour at some point so do try to catch it then. It really is a gem of a show which is a joy in every way.