If the slipper fits: 'Cinderella' puts a delightful foot forward

By Joanne Weintraub
of the Journal Sentinel

November 2, 1997

"Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" (tonight at 6, Channel 12) is a multicultural celebration in more ways than one.

There's the obvious way: in the rainbow casting, unprecedented for TV, that gives African-American singing star Brandy a white stepmother, a black fairy godmother and a Filipino Prince Charming.

And then there's the unexpected way: in the feat its producers, drawn from the diverse cultures of pop, Broadway and television, have accomplished by giving this 40-year-old work a contemporary sheen without sacrificing its musical heart.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's only original musical for television, "Cinderella" isn't one of their best-known works, but it's got a liltingly lovely score. Julie Andrews created the title role in 1957, but the more familiar version, which holds up surprisingly well when it appears from time to time on the Disney Channel, was done eight years later with Lesley Ann Warren.

Eighteen-year-old Brandy, the chart-busting pop singer and star of the UPN sitcom "Moesha," steps easily into the glass slippers in this "Wonderful World of Disney" remake. At times, she's a bit too wide-eyed, even for a fairy tale, but she handles the score with grace.

Opposite her, a young Manila-born, Broadway-trained actor, Paolo Montalban, makes a prince of a Prince Charming. Yes, Broadway still turns out tenors who can dance and act, too: amazing.

If colorblind casting were a good idea for no other reason, you'd have to cheer it for giving Whoopi Goldberg, as the prince's mother, a chance to do comic business with Jason Alexander, as his valet. In fact, among the major players, including Bernadette Peters as the stepmother and Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle as her daughters, only Whitney Houston, the fairy godmother, seems out of place, sounding as if she'd never heard a Broadway score and looking as if she'd just wandered in from the Grammys.

Houston is also one of the show's producers, along with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who got their start at the New York Shakespeare Festival and went on to produce ABC's 1993 "Gypsy" with Bette Midler, and Disneyite Chris Montan. Even Rodgers' daughter, Mary, a successful musical comedy composer herself, had a hand in the proceedings.

With a committee like that, it's almost scary to think of the motley, mismatched creature "Cinderella" could have been. Instead, these disparate godparents have respected the show's musical-comedy roots, gotten the best from their young stars and sprinkled around enough fairy dust to make everything glitter.

Incidentally, if some of the songs seem familiar but out of place, it's because three of them have been filched from other Rodgers musicals. Tinkering for tinkering's sake is a pain, but not when it allows the incomparable Peters to sing Rodgers & Hart's "Falling in Love with Love" in the middle of a Rodgers & Hammerstein show.

Paolo Montalban in tune with a musical career

By Kathleen Meyer
of the Journal Sentinel staff

December 21, 1997

Q: We enjoyed the performance of Paolo Montalban as the Prince in Whitney Houston's production of "Cinderella." Please tell us about any other projects he has been involved in.

-- Mrs. S. Schulze, Oconomowoc

A: Paolo Montalban, 24, who was born in Manila, the Philippines, is not related to Ricardo Montalban of "Fantasy Island" fame.

A 1993 graduate of Rutgers University, Montalban performed in national touring companies of musicals including "Man of La Mancha," "Aladdin," "Godspell" and "Kiss Me Kate." He was on Broadway for 15 months in the chorus of "The King and I" before landing the part of the Prince in the "Wonderful World of Disney" production of "Cinderella."