Submitted By: Julie


New Haven Advocate

December 01, 2000

"Everything trickled down from Eartha Kitt," is how composer Andrew Lippa describes the process of putting together a major national tour of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella--a musical composed expressly for television, first broadcast live in the 1950s with Julie Andrews. The show was redone in the '60s with Lesley Ann Warren and taped for annual reruns. Most recently, Brandy and Whitney Houston updated and multiculturalized the show for modern audiences. That version inspired this new stage tour, for which Lippa is lightly tweaking the classic score. This time, the show has--even if inadvertently--taken on a gay aura.

This production features gay icons Eartha Kitt and Everett Quinton. Kitt, erstwhile Catwoman beloved by drag divas worldwide, pulls a 360 from the Wicked Witch she played in a Wizard of Oz tour and takes on the winsome Fairy Godmother. Kitt brings more than class to the endeavor: With a single currently on the dance charts and a role in the Christmastime animated Disney flick The Emperor's New Groove, she's a contemporary star.

The trickle-down from the the purrrrfect Kitt to Everett Quinton is thus perfectly natural. Quinton, longtime collaborator and romantic partner of the late great Ridiculous Theatre actor/manager Charles Ludlam, is playing the Evil Stepmother, naturally. "I have a lot of costume changes," the established drag actor rasps. "Fabulous costume changes. The whole show is gorgeous, so it's hard to say who has the best clothes, but I do think it's me."

Paolo Montalban, the son of the fabulous Ricardo, repeats the charmingly royal role he played opposite Brandy on TV--the tube version's only influence on the tour. Debbie Gibson, the Britney Spears of the '80s, adds Cinderella to a theater resume that already includes Colette in Les Mis and Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

The involvement of both Lippa and Quinton is due to the magic directorial wand of Goodspeed Opera House veteran Gabriel Barre. Barre asked Quinton to audition for the stepmother role after the actor's agent had suggested him for a royal sidekick part.

"I was blown away," says Quinton, whose recent theatrical adventures include directing The Beaux Stratagem at Yale Rep and creating children's shows at the Omaha Theater for Young People. "I'm not really a singer," Quinton confesses. "When I auditioned, I approached it the way I do all female roles--fully in character. Gabriel Barre said at the audition that I presented a human being. There are a lot of mistakes that men make when they perform as women, and the biggest is that they have no humanity."


Last year Barre directed the Off Broadway production of Lippa's musical The Wild Party, which had been workshopped at the Eugene O' Neill Theatre Center in Waterford. Barre brought Lippa on board the Cinderella revival once "he realized it would need reworking," the composer explains. Lippa jumped at the chance because he was "frazzled" after Wild Party and needed something to keep him busy, but not something that he'd be obsessing over. After all, he's in the midst of two other projects--one that will be scripted by Arthur Laurents and star Chita Rivera, and another he won't talk about.

Cinderella, playing giant halls like the 3,000-seat Oakdale for 36 weeks, is the biggest touring show either Lippa or Quinton has undertaken. And "this is the first time Cinderella has ever been produced for the stage on this scale," Lippa notes. "It's a 16-piece orchestra, including a harp! Not a lot of shows have a real harp. They usually use the synthesizer."

The show requires Lippa--under the watchful eye of the Richard Rodgers estate--to write some incidental music as background for scene changes and special effects, and to fill in gaps that were previously filled by TV commercials. "The Rodgers and Hammerstein [estates] realized the unique aspect of bringing a composer on board rather than a traditional arranger," Lippa says. But he is not writing any new songs, as he did for the recent revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

"On that one I had even more control. In Cinderella, the challenge is different," he says. "These are classic writers, and there's an organization behind those classic writers. I've been dealing with Mary Rodgers [Richard's daughter, and a successful musical theater creator in her own right]. She gave it the thumbs up.

"We're being true to the spirit of Richard Rodgers, but we have to move the show into our time period. The goal is to make it sound like Rodgers and Hammerstein. But if you know my work, you'll hear me in it."

The tradition of non-traditional casting--from the soul stars of the TV version to the ginchy, campy, gender-dragged cast of this tour--is in the transformative spirit of Cinderella's story.

"The racial differences don't matter," says Lippa, who also says he knew of "no conscious choice" to make the show gay-friendly by casting Kitt and Quinton. "The Cinderella story is found in all cultures. We'll have family audiences, multiracial audiences ..." and plenty of room for harps, mice, pumpkins and fairies.

Rodgers & Hammerstein's made-for-TV fairy tale, updated by Andrew Lippa. At the Oakdale,
Dec. 13-17. Call (203) 265-1501.

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