Whitney & Brandy in Cinderella


ABC/Disney special pairs veteran superstar and rising star


It is not the story of Cinderella that Baby Boomers grew up watching, yet it is a fairy tale that will be well-loved and with which all ages and ethnicities can identify.


In the updated version of Rodgets G Hammerstein's Cinderella that airs November 2 on ABC, singing sensation Brandy stars as the mistreated young woman who, with the help of her Fairy Godmother, in this case superstar singer/actress Whitney Houston, is transformed into a beautiful princess who captures the eye and heart of the Prince, portrayed by Paolo Montalban, who was born in the Philippines.


To round out this multicultural cast, Whoopi Goldbelg plays the Queen; Victor Galber a noted White actor, portrays the King; and Bernadette Peters is the Wicked Stepmother who bullies and belittles Cinderella while giving preferential treatment to her own daughters, portrayed by Natalie Desselle, who appeared with Halle Berry in B.A.P,S., and Veanne Cox, a White actress. Also among the talented, multiracial cast is Jason Alexander, of Seinfeld fame, who portrays the Prince's valet.


This updated version of the classic tale of sibling rivalry, love at first sight and beauty within will mark Houston's debut as executive producer for her own BrownHouse Productions.


"My dream is that this Cinderella will touch every child and the child in every adult," says Debra Martin Chase, executive vice president of BrownHouse who is also executive producer of the feature. Chase adds that she and Whitney both loved Lesley Ann Warren's Cinderella as children. "But as we grew up, we began to think what it might have meant to us as children to see our images reflected in these fairy tales, says Chase. "That would have meant that our dreams could come true, too. ... Our society has changed. We hope that this Cinderella, as we approach the millennium, is reflective of what our society is today. I sincerely hope that it reinforces the art of dreaming-- having a vision and understanding that everyone has the power within to make that vision come true."


And that is exactly what Whitney as the Fairy Godmother helps young Cinderella to learn--that through positive thinking and believing in yourself, "impossible" things can happen.


It was 40 years ago, in 1957, that the original Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella aired on television. It was especially written for and starred Lesley Ann Warren, and it attracted more than 107 million viewers. Lesley Ann Warren starred in the 1965 version, which became a regularly repeated television favorite.


Theatrical producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, also executive producers for Cinderella, suggested that Whitney take on the classic and well-loved story after she approached them about a possible project. While she originally intended to star in the title role, she changed her mind as years passed while other career opportunities pushed the project to the back burner. "I can't really do this because I don't feel that I'm young enough to play Cinderella" she eventually told them, "and I've gone through life experiences that make it impossible for me to play the part."


Whitney immediately called Brandy, who recalls being overjoyed with the opportunity to portray the lead role in her favorite childhood fairy tale. "I dropped the phone and I ran in the room screaming to my Mom," she recalls. "It's a fairy tale, really. I'm still waiting for someone to pinch me." Brandy, who is 18 and a freshman at Pepperdine University, stars on the popular television show, Moesha, and will release her second album early next year.


The snazzy new version of Cinderella features beautiful costumes, elaborate dance scenes and, of course, plenty of music. "The music is so gorgeous," says executive producer Chase. "We retained the classic nature of the music but contemporized the rhythms and beats. You'd think it was written yesterday."


In addition to the music, all the producers wanted the new Cinderella to reflect relevance for the '90s audience. And that it does. In the end, Cinderella thanks the Fairy Godmother for her good fortune, but Houston as the Godmother tells her: "You had it inside you all the time. You didn't need me. You just had to realize you had it!"


Houston and Chase say the ultimate message in their Cinderella is that African-American girls and women are princesses just as much as White girls and those of other ethnicities, and that they too can fulfill their dreams.