There are many versions of Cinderella scattered through time via various forms of media, whether it be on stage, in film, or on television. But I believe this award-winning version, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, is the most endearing.
Originally created for TV in 1957 with the incomparable Julie Andrews, my first exposure to Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was actually the 1997 TV film remake produced by Disney.
The 1997 film contained a culturally diverse cast which was ahead of its time, and starred the late great Whitney Houston, introduced the handsome and talented Filipino-American Paolo Montalban to the world, and had rising star (at the time) Brandy, play iconic role of Cinderella.
Cut to 25 years later and the Tony Award winning Broadway production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella has finally had its much-anticipated Australian premiere at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre.
I really appreciated the thoughtful casting with Shubshri Kandiah as Cinderella/Ella. More often than not, Cinderella is pictured as a beautiful Caucasian young lady, except for the 1997 TV film version. Not only do I appreciate the diverse casting of the title role in this production, but Kandiah is simply wonderful as Cinderella. She’s sweet, wholesome, kind, has an incredible voice, a gorgeous smile and is a joy to watch. ‘In My Own Little Corner’ is my favourite song from the musical and Kandiah performed it beautifully. She is Cinderella.
Her love interest Prince Topher is very different than what I imagined a typical fairytale prince to be like. While he does slay monsters, Ainsley Melham’s prince comes across as awkward, quirky, hesitant, bashful, and even little bit geeky. But I loved that. The chemistry that Kandiah and Melham have on stage feels very real and natural. Every moment that Cinderella and Prince Topher have together surprisingly made me laugh while tugging at my heartstrings. Their duet song, ‘Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?’ probably has the most clever and thought evoking lyrics of the musical. It’s poetic, it’s romantic, and Kandiah and Melham‘s combined voices help sell the story. The romance feels real and incredibly heartwarming.
It would be wrong to not mention how great Silvie Paladino is as Marie, the Fairy Godmother. With her powerful stage presence and impressive vocals, complete with stunning gowns, one would think that Paladino shines the most when her character is turning pumpkins into carriages and flying above everyone. But she is equally as excellent when she is in disguise as ‘Crazy Marie’, who despite her nickname, provides sound advice for young Cinderella. Kandiah and Paladino‘s voices also marry together seamlessly in their duet during the iconic and catchy song ‘Impossible/It’s Possible’, which I now cannot get out of my head.
Todd McKenney is a talented man in demand. Gracing audiences in his role as Prince Topher’s advisor, Sebastian, McKenny’s quick wit and humour in his portrayal simply feels like an effortless and masterful extension of himself. His appearance is exclusive to the Melbourne leg of the Australian tour.
Sebastian’s moral rival Jean-Michele, played by Josh Gardiner, is great as the restless, determined and politically inclined love interest to Cinderella’s stepsister, Matilda Moran’s Gabrielle. Admittedly, Moran and Gardiner’s on-stage chemistry almost stole the limelight from the main love couple, as I thoroughly enjoyed their cute, cheeky, and fun-loving energy exchange.
Tina Bursill is intimidating, commanding and superb as Madame, Cinderella’s stepmother and I loved every moment that Bursill was on stage. This version of Cinderella’s stepmother is less two-dimensional and feels more human. She wants her daughters to marry well but lets her guard down during the song ‘A Lovely Night’, when the whole family is bonding and enjoying each other’s company, even if but for a short period of time.
Daniel Belle is phenomenal as Lord Pinkleton. Belle is completely charming in his performance, and his operatic booming vocals blew the audience away every time he was on stage. I honestly wished he was on stage more during the show and admittedly found myself relishing every moment when he did appear.
Last but not least, Bianca Bruce is a showstopper with her fantastic portrayal of Cinderella’s other stepsister, the sassy, feisty, and flamboyant Charlotte. Her comic timing is impeccable, and her stage presence is captivating. Whenever she was on-stage, I couldn’t help but look away from everyone else to focus on her. Not only is Bruce hilarious, but her awesome vocals, especially during her performance of ‘The Stepsister’s Lament’, only cemented the fact that this talented woman is a force to be reckoned with in Australian theatre.
Even though the power and talent of the cast is solid, it is the set and costume changes that really make you believe that magic is happening. The choice of colours, the designs, and even the gorgeous dance choreography all help to tell the famous story of Cinderella, and it really feels like a fairytale book has come to life before your eyes.
The ballroom scene where Cinderella initially goes to the ball is the most stunning. Not only was the dancing mesmerising to watch, but I was completely envious of all the impressive gowns and costumes that the cast were wearing. The experience was also very immersive that I felt I too wanted to go to the ball!
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is an enchanting production that I cannot fault. It has been a long time since I have witnessed a genuinely feel-good musical in Melbourne, and Cinderella is just the show we need.
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is now playing at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre until the 22nd of July. For more information on its national tour and ticketing, visit: https://cinderellamusical.com.au
Photography by Jeff Busby.