Paper Mill Playhouse
Millburn, NJ - October 2005
Reviewed by John Kenrick
(The images below are thumbnails – click on them to see larger versions. All the photos below are used with the permission of Paper Mill.)
Call me a stickler, but wrinkled sets are an insult to a paying audience. Paper Mill Playhouse has brought in leftover sets and costumes from national tours before. It is a respected way for regional companies to save dollars during tough times. But up to now, these productions have been spruced up a bit. The production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella that will play at Paper Mill through early December spent the past two years traveling the country -- and shows every one of its weary miles, right down to visibly wrinkled backdrops. However tight the budget may be, surely Paper Mill has a steamer sitting around somewhere?
Poor Cinderella! This sweet show has been an audience favorite since its debut on CBS-TV in 1957. It has been re-made for television twice, produced in various stage versions, and has been revised more times than George Bush's rationalizations for attacking Iraq. This latest version makes the clumsy mistake of infusing the story with up to the minute slang and teen lingo. The trouble is that this script will be hopelessly outdated again in five years or less -- and the twists added to the story (such as making the Fairy Godmother the ghost of Cinderella's mother?) add nothing. Rodgers once said that updating Cinderella would be a mistake, and he was right. The original TV score has been augmented by several other numbers, some of which are taken at unusual tempi -- including a funereal "Waltz at the Ball" that took all the magic out of a key moment in the story.
Director Gabriel Barre's approach to Cinderella is often way, way off base. Randy Hansen's sets teeter between standard fantasy and modernist, causing some bizarre combinations. (Zig-zag chandeliers in a palace ballroom?) The talented Pamela Scofield has come up with some of the ugliest costumes I have ever seen on a professional stage. Since these were the same designers who collaborated with Barre on Summer of 42' (which won well-deserved praise from this critic), I can only assume they had a communal stumble here. Tom Helm provides a steady hand in the orchestra pit.
The casting is uneven. Angela Gaylor is pretty in the title role, but she brings no special charm to her interpretation. Pablo Montalban has played the Prince on TV and on tour, but his performance has zero personality, and is plagued by his inability to sing basic vowel sounds ("you" becomes 'yeeeeeew" - what amateurish nonsense!). The ever dependable Nora Mae Ling makes the stepmother thoroughly hateful, but both Jen Cody and Janelle Anne Robinson are misdirected into crude, empty, over the top performances as the stepsisters. Stanley Wayne Mathias struggles manfully in the thankless role of a wisecracking royal steward, and Larry Keith and Joy Franz give warm performances as the King and Queen. Suzanne Douglas is a thoroughly un-magical Fairy Godmother.
The good news is that James Bullieri, Ron DeStefano, Jason Robinson, Dante Russo and Jason Weston easily steal the show as the visible puppeteers manipulating the cat and mice that befriend Cinderella. Blatantly stolen from the animated Disney version, these stuffed creatures bring the only real moments of enchantment in this production -- other than the rather impressive pumpkin-into-coach transformation scene, which is a high-tech audience pleaser.
This unbalanced production may have gotten by on tour with the stellar presence of Eartha Kitt (as the Fairy Godmother) to provide distraction. With no star talent in sight, Paper Mill leaves its audiences with a sometimes pleasant, sometimes clumsy production that will probably entertain small youngsters. (Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella reduced to a kiddie show? Something tells me the authors would not have been too thrilled.)
This may be passable fare for a regional theatre, but not for a company that sits literally 45 minutes from Broadway. This Cinderella is not terrible, but it is second rate, and Paper Mill's audiences have every right to expect more. Hopefully, the season ahead will give us cause to cheer. In the meantime, would it be too much for someone at Paper Mill to do something about those funky backdrops?
This limited run ended on December 4, 2005.