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'Cinderella' Turns Into a Pumpkin 
By Nelson Pressley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 21, 2001; Page C01 

"Cinderella" is a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and you'd 
think that pedigree would be good enough for the touring 
production that opened last night at the Kennedy Center Opera 
House. But apparently it's not: This show wants to be a Disney 

Director Gabriel Barre and adapter Tom Briggs give the audience 
the hard sell right from the beginning. Lights twinkle and the 
orchestra thunders during a fast, overamplified prologue 
borrowed from Disney's Broadway "Beauty and the Beast." 
(In "Beast," it's about a curse and a rose; here it involves a 
tree planted in memory of Cinderella's mother.)

More "Beast"deja vu: The Technicolor set is framed by a series 
of arches -- the kind that light up like fireworks for the 
splashy "Be Our Guest." "Cinderella's" new opener, a Richard 
Rodgers song called "The Sweetest Sounds," from his 1962 
musical "No Strings," is turned into a frenetic production 
number in the town square, with the perky heroine as its central 
figure (shades of "Beast's" Belle). Cinderella has a coterie of 
animal friends here, making her less like a musical theater 
figure and more like an animated heroine, while the visible 
puppeteers handling the wires of various rodents, birds and a 
cat bring Broadway's "Lion King" to mind.

Worst of all, this "Cinderella" sounds like "Beauty and the 
Beast." It bellows; it bullies. The gorgeous melodies that have 
made this show a little gem since it first appeared on TV in the 
late 1950s are in there somewhere underneath the frantic musical 
arrangements. This sounds to me like the modernized pop 
treatment that accompanied the 1997 TV version with Whitney 
Houston; if you liked that, you'll like this, too.

And, of course, a lot of people do. I sat next to a young couple 
who sang along with the whole show, something I've been tempted 
to do during previous "Cinderellas." It's a sweet, deeply 
infectious score, and when Barre and company resist the 
temptation to embellish it, they create some fine moments.

Take "Ten Minutes Ago," the delightful waltz for Cinderella (the 
appealing Jessica Rush) and the Prince (suave and gentle as 
played by Paolo Montalban) as they begin to fall in love. The 
music lilts along, the lovers gaze into each other's eyes, and 
the rest of the revelers surround them and sway just the tiniest 
bit, bathed in blue light. Dreamy music; dreamy picture.

There are a few other things to admire in this production. 
Eartha Kitt, growly and lithe as ever, is an unlikely but 
triumphant choice as the Fairy Godmother. Kitt inevitably makes 
the benevolent character tough and worldly -- a good fairy to 
have in your corner.

Tougher still is Everett Quinton as the Stepmother. Quinton's a 
breeze in heels, yet his characterization here is 
straightforward and harsh, not campy (except for a delicious 
moment or two). Sandra Bargman and NaTasha Yvette Williams, 
though, are merely loud and obnoxious as the Stepsisters, 
braying through the punch lines of the usually 
funny "Stepsisters' Lament."

James Youmans's two-column set for the palace ballroom is simple 
and handsome, as is Tim Hunter's lighting design, and Pamela 
Scofield provides elegant costumes for the royals. But the 
conical hairdos and neon-toned costumes for the Stepsisters are 
overbearing; the actresses strain to live up to their ridiculous 
looks. And as for the enchanted transformation scene -- 
ragamuffin into princess, pumpkin into coach, and all that -- it 
would be fairly impressive if the swirling, twinkling lights and 
chiming orchestra didn't so closely echo the magic spectacle 
in "Beauty and the Beast."

This is why musicals can be depressing: Beautiful music and a 
solid story just don't seem to be enough for modern producers 
courting big audiences. Then again, maybe there's no real 
accounting for tastelessness; the folks who've put this on the 
stage probably like it and believe in it. Either way, it's 
terribly strange to see and hear the work of Richard Rodgers and 
Oscar Hammerstein, the greatest songwriting team of America's 
musical theater, molded to ape the latest fad.

Cinderella, music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar 
Hammerstein II. Directed by Gabriel Barre. Choreography, Ken 
Roberson; music director, John Mezzio; sound design, Duncan 
Edwards. Approximately two hours. Through Jan. 13 at the Kennedy 
Center Opera House. Call 202-467-4600. 

 2001 The Washington Post Company