Thanks to Alessia Attolini 12/26/99

Published Friday, October 31, 1997, in the Akron Beacon Journal.

Slipper is tight fit in TV `Cinderella'

Gimmick of racially mixed cast and PC messages fail to keep show from being fun. The new TV production of Cinderella is a pleasant, light-hearted musical with plenty of bounce. Which apparently isn't enough for some people. Premiering at 7 p.m. Sunday on ABC, with singer-actress Brandy as Cinderella, the musical is being asked to do some heavy lifting. The current issue of Newsweek devotes several pages to Cinderella as a racial issue (``The heroine is black,'' the headline declares. ``Prince Charming isn't.''). It also ponders how the woman-rescued-by-a-handsome-prince story works in a postfeminist age. That seems to be a pretty serious burden for the show to carry. Not that this show -- based on the 1957 and 1965 TV versions of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical -- is without substance. Looking squarely at the children in its audience (the musical is appearing under the Wonderful World of Disney banner), See TV , Page C6 TV

Houston's singing is over-the-top, as usual Continued from Page C1

The production repeatedly addresses the issue of love as something more than physical attraction. In one song, Cinderella and the prince (Paolo Montalban), ask each other a series of questions, starting with, ``Do I love you because you're beautiful or are you beautiful because I love you?'' At the same time, though, the production does, in some key respects, play the sad old game of equating physical beauty with virtue; Cinderella and her prince are attractive but Cinderella's stepsisters are presented both as unpleasant and physically unappealing.

What does that say to little girls in the audience who look more like the heavyset stepsister than the appealing star? Wouldn't Cinderella have made a better point if the stepsisters were physically stunning -- then rejected for their emotional shortcomings? And see, now, I'm doing it. To be sure, Cinderella, like any fairy tale, has some built-in messages. And there may be issues for you to discuss with your children after you've watched. But let's not forget that this production is supposed to be fun, and it is.

What is fully titled Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella is -- in the hands of writer Robert L. Freedman, director Robert Iscove and choreographer Rob Marshall -- a deft assembling of cast, staging, dance and music.

The music has been reorchestrated and augmented from the original version, which was the only musical for television written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. For example, songs from other parts of Rodgers' body of work have been added, notably his song The Sweetest Sounds and the Rodgers and Hart composition Falling in Love With Love. The cast also includes Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother (Houston is also an executive producer on the special); Whoopi Goldberg and Victor Garber as the king and queen; Jason Alexander as the steward Lionel, and Bernadette Peters as Cinderella's stepmother.

You're looking for the most part at people who can sing and dance. Goldberg, no singer, is wisely kept to limited work in that area. Still, it is great fun to watch her act, notably in her byplay with Garber. Alexander and Peters also seem to have great fun in their scenes together. Brandy and Montalban make a suitably romantic young couple, with Brandy bringing the right note of innocence to her performance.

My one major reservation is with Houston, someone I've long thought of as an immensely gifted singer and a chilling personality. Cinderella does not change my mind, and I could easily have done without her over-the-top singing at the show's end. Now, you may sit and search for deeper meaning in all this. But you don't have to. The songs and performances provide plenty of pleasure on their own.

R.D. Heldenfels writes about television for the Beacon Journal. He can be reached at 330-996-3582.