Cinderella and Prince. Multi-ethnic casting that includes Brandy, Paolo Montalban should widen story's appeal.


On the night of hype, Cinderella is the fairest

By Hal Boedeker
of The Sentinel Staff

Published in The Orlando Sentinel, November 2, 1997

After a staggering promotional blitz, the biggest evening so far of the TV season unfolds tonight. It's the first Sunday of the November sweeps ratings period.


``The masterpiece comes to life'' and ``the most magical event of the year,'' an ABC commercial says of the new production of Cinderella.

Not exactly.

Whitney Houston and The Wonderful World of Disney deserve kudos for dusting off this fairy-tale heroine and giving her a lavish new production at a reported cost of $12 million. Like the Bette Midler Gypsy before it, Cinderella is an event because TV musicals are so rare these days.

The beloved Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II songs have a ready-made audience that remembers Julie Andrews singing ``In My Own Little Corner'' in the 1957 TV original and Lesley Ann Warren warbling the tune in the oft-repeated 1965 remake.

This time around, the appealing Brandy of Moesha makes the glass slipper her own, the songs have a nifty beat and the new version adds the beautiful Rodgers standard ``The Sweetest Sounds.''

The multi-ethnic casting is another inspired touch that should make this version accessible to all children. Cinderella airs at 7 tonight on WFTV-Channel 9.

There can be no complaints about Paolo Montalban, the newcomer who plays the dashing prince and sings ``Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?'' The rib-tickling Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle cavort through an excellent ``Stepsisters Lament.''

For comic relief, Jason Alexander provides daffy slapstick as the prince's steward, and Whoopi Goldberg mugs happily as the queen. But Victor Garber, a great stage actor, has little to do as the king.

Bernadette Peters makes a dizzy and mean stepmother, though it was a mistake to add the Rodgers-Lorenz Hart standard ``Falling in Love With Love'' so she could have a show-stopper. Cinderella subverts the song's meaning.

The new version is at times cluttered, gaudy and slow-moving, but everything comes together at the ball, where Cinderella's entrance receives a lovely staging.

The chief problem with Cinderella is fairy godmother Whitney Houston, who looks as if she just arrived from a Vegas disco where Siegfried and Roy dressed her.

This fairy godmother has a bulldozing style, giving unnecessary self-help speeches and blasting away with her mighty pipes. She practices heavy magic.

The new version adds the Rodgers-Hammerstein song ``There's Music in You'' so Houston can caterwaul at the end and dominate the screen. But, hey, the show is called Cinderella, not ``Fairy Godmother.''

Hats off to producer Houston, but for a more enchanting fairy tale, she should have asked Lena Horne to play the fairy godmother.

(c) 1997 Orlando Sentinel Online