Millennium `Cinderella'

By Michael E. Hill
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 2, 1997; Page Y03
The Washington Post

It is the centerpiece of the new Disney presentation of "Cinderella." In the midst of a grand ball staged so that he might find his mate, the Prince looks to the top of a staircase and sees Cinderella making a heart-stopping entrance.

Moments later they are in each other's arms, gliding across the floor in a hopelessly romantic waltz.

It looks so effortless, so smooth, so easy, and yet . . .

"It took about two weeks for me to learn how to waltz," said Brandy. "Well," she said on second thought, "I learned the first day, but to perfect it took awhile."

The result is the big moment in this multi-ethnic incarnation of "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella," developed for "The Wonderful World of Disney" and airing at 7 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

Brandy, the recording star who has her own UPN series, "Moesha," takes center stage in a role that at times has helped define the careers of Julie Andrews and Lesley Ann Warren.

The fairy tale was presented as an animated Disney feature in 1950. Later, Rodgers & Hammerstein developed the story as their only original musical for television. It featured Andrews, then starring on Broadway in "My Fair Lady." In 1965, it was remade, that time with Warren.

This week's presentation began years ago as a vehicle for Whitney Houston, who is one of the show's executive producers. Because so much time elapsed, she offered the title role to Brandy, taking the part of the Fairy Godmother for herself.

Three songs have been added to the show's score: "The Sweetest Sounds," music and lyrics from Richard Rodgers; "Falling in Love With Love," music by Rodgers, lyrics from Lorenz Hart; and "There's Music in You," Rodgers's music with Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics.

Robert L. Freedman, who wrote the teleplay, said he did not want to portray Cinderella simply waiting for her prince.

"We wanted a more contemporary sensibility about male-female relations, without taking anything away from the magic," he said. "You do want to say that dreams come true."

Houston gets to scatter fairy dust and give the show a contemporary edge. "I'm your Fairy Godmother, honey. . . .You got a problem with that?"

The poly-ethnic cast generally has stage work in common. Indeed, the show often resembles a stage musical captured on film.

Victor Garber and Whoopi Goldberg are the king and queen (her squeaks are very funny); Bernadette Peters is Cinderella's evil stepmother, with Natalie Desselle and Veanne Cox as her daughters; "Seinfeld's" Jason Alexander is the prince's valet. The prince is played by Manila-born Paolo Montalban, a 1993 Rutgers graduate in pre-med psychology who was working to make a place for himself in theater work when he answered a "Cinderella" casting call.

"I was carrying a torch in a Broadway ensemble," he said. "I auditioned for this wonderful project. . . . It's just been one surprise after another."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company