Opera Australia’s production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is glorious from the get go. Though there is no real standout number, the musical’s soundtrack is glorious and easy-on-the-ear, filled as it is with recognisable Rogers and Hammerstein melodies and lyrics. Anna Louizos’ set design is superb, featuring slick transitions through scenes the sometimes include animal hand puppets.
The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical isn’t the Cinderella story we know from the 1950 Disney animated film, rather a musical originally written expressly for a 1957 television special by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Though its story is still a little shallow and its themes perhaps questionable, the fairy tale has been fleshed out with twists and a more modern sensibility.
It is centred on the idea of kindness and the political ideals of having every voice heard. Thanks to new book writer Carter Beane, it is also very funny, with Nicholas Hammond as Prince Topher’s Lord Chancellor effortlessly establishing the comic tone early. Laughs also come thanks to the comic timing of Ainsley Melham as the dashing and also sincere Prince Topher. He is having a hard time finding his purpose in life, even though he is soon to become King.
Brisbane’s own rising musical theatre star Shubshri Kandiah shines in the demanding titular role of Ella, reimagining the orphaned Cinderella as a more modern heroine with the kindest heart in the kingdom. She dreams of escaping her endless chores, so she might one day see the world beyond keeping house for her ill-tempered and selfish stepmother Madame (Debora Krizak) and two stepsisters Gabrielle (Matilda Moran) and Charlotte (Bianca Bruce).
Krizak’s Madame makes Ella’s stepmother appropriately vain and tyrannical in her concern only for her wealth. Well-versed in the art of ridicule, she has a deliciously devilish tongue and Krizak delights in her melodrama. Moran and Bruce are similarly fabulous as stepsisters Gabrielle and Charlotte. Silvie Paladino soars (#literally) as the Fairy Godmother Marie.
William Ivey Long’s vibrant costumes are a feast for the eyes, especially Cinderella’s sparkling glass slippers and the beautiful gowns that swirl around the ball scenes, and enable “blink and you will miss them” costume changes. Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a stunning spectacle of song and dance, especially in its big ensemble numbers. The dancing is sensational, whether it be the beautiful twirls of ballroom waltzes or the finely formed ballet number that opens Act II.
With musical direction by Simon Holt, the live orchestra finds the overall lushness of the musical’s score, but also characteristic motifs. Directed by Mark Brokaw, this is a dazzlingly magical production, easy to watch – a perfect vehicle to introduce a younger audience to musical theatre. While refreshing in its take on a classic tale, it remains uplifting in its messaging.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella plays the Lyric Theatre, QPAC until 3rd September 2022.
For more of Meredith Walker’s writings on theatre, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane