I grew up with Cinderella. I read most of its versions and watched its adaptation on the movies and in television. I didn't get to see the one starred by Julie Andrews though. It was first aired on TV in 1957 and was viewed by 107,000,000 people—the largest audience to date.
When I heard it was Lea Salonga who would bring the cinder girl to life on stage, I was ecstatic. A Filipina will play the role of my favorite fairy tale character? A leg of the production will run here in Manila? Awesome!
The story opens with a young girl scrubbing the floor. In the small room, there is a pail of water, a wooden bed, and a broomstick. She lives in scarcity, but her heart is brimming with much enthusiasm.
She's a "sweet child and kind," and she even feeds the rats. Despite her never-ending chores, the cinder girl has always been optimistic. She usually daydreams and hopes that "the deepest longing in the world is waiting somewhere."The Fairy Godmother, played by Charlie Parker, enters the scene. She's tall, robust, witty, and quite a tease. She usually joins Cinderella in her reverie, and serves as the girl's alter ego.
The Prologue recaps with the Fairy Godmother narrating Cinderella's rich history, which dates back to 9th century China. The backdrop changes and the projection and light effects create a striking impact!
The first scene is at the Town Square. Hark the Herald, a representative from the palace, announces: "The Prince is giving a ball!" This gets the whole town excited.
A few minutes later, everyone begins practicing the waltz for the ball. The moment calls for a high level of energy, and the vendors, maids, and patrons engage in a well-choreographed dance!
This is also where the formidable trio—the stepmother and the two stepsisters—is introduced.
Julia Cook, the stepmother, inquires about the commotion. Upon learning that Prince Christopher will be giving a ball, she becomes excited for her daughters, Portia (Jen Bechter) and Joy (Brandy Zarle).
Cinderella, who is carrying tons of boxes, hears about it and starts wishing she can go to the ball, too.
The next scene shows Cinderella running around in circles to follow the orders of her step-family. One asks for a cup of tea, the other demands that the window—which keeps on opening—be closed; the orders are all coming at the same time.
Then, the three start talking about their preparations for the big event. What are they going to wear? How are they going to introduce themselves to the prince?
Meeting the prince is a big deal to the mom. Her family is broke, and she's out to win the heart of Prince Christopher for either Portia or Joy. To make sure everything will turn out well, she asks her daughters to rehearse their lines and curtsies. This scene is ridiculously hilarious!
In the fairy tales, the step-family is really wicked, making the life of Cinderella hell. But in this musical version, the comic antics of the three ladies become a good contrast to the forlorn scenes of Lea.
The next part leads in to the Royal Dressing Room. Enter the King and Queen, played by Jefferson Slinkard and Janna Cardia, respectively.
Queen Macy, who has not thrown a ball for the past five years, finds herself very busy with the guest list, which has 1,700 names, and the things to be purchased.
The King, on the other hand, is getting nervous. He is very frugal, and thinks the ball is just a waste of money. Nonetheless, the Queen's enthusiasm is so contagious that he finds it hard to say no to her wishes.
A portion of the scene is about deciding where to get the wine. The King repeatedly sings, "I want the wine of my country." Then towards the end, he completes his line: "I want the wine of my country. The wine of my country is...beer."
While everyone in the palace is busy with the preparations, the Prince—played by Peter Saide, who recently appeared on Saturday Night Fever as Tony—is a little troubled.
He confesses his anxiety over the upcoming ball to his dad. In the end, the King convinces him to feel excited, so as not to dishearten the Queen. The tall and handsome prince half-heartedly agrees and says to his mom that he's "tragically happy" about the Grand Ball.
In Cinderella's kitchen, the ladies are getting ready for the ball. Joy wears a violet gown with floral prints, which hugs her figure nicely. Portia, on the other hand, dons an outrageous pumpkin-inspired outfit, which highlights her pumpkin-shaped figure.
After the trio leaves for the event at the Palace, Cinderella is left alone with her musing. While singing "In My Own Little Corner," she dreams of going to different places and enjoying the good things that this life has to offer.
To make her imagination more vivid, the director employs a shadow effect to interpret the lyrics of the song. So, on the stage are two spotlights—one is on Lea, the other is on the shadow.
But before Cinderella gets carried away, the Fairy Godmother arrives.
The two belt out "Impossible." The Fairy Godmother tries to dismiss the scatty ideas of Cinderella about attending the Grand Ball. But the girl's spirits cannot be easily dampened.
Next is the most magical moment.
The Fairy Godmother, with the help of director Bobby Garcia's magic wand, makes the wishes of Cinderella come true. The rats talk and dance, then transform into horses and a coachman. The giant pumpkin becomes a golden coach. The cinder girl becomes the belle of the ball.
Every thing is executed perfectly. The transition from one "magical" transformation to the next, with the help of music and light effects, is fast and seamless!
The Palace Ballroom has a grand staircase and few chandeliers as props. It isn't as grand as expected, but elegance still fills the hall with the elaborate costumes of the guests.
Everyone is dancing, including the Prince, who is obviously agitated by the women who are close to throwing themselves at him.
The stepmother ensures that her daughters will have a moment with Prince Christopher. But the efforts of the stepsisters are futile. They fail to enthrall him, but successfully capture the audience with their funny lines and delivery.
The music is noisy, the people are dancing, there are so many things happening at the same time; and then, the music segues into a much slower piece and perfectly establishes the change in mood.
Cinderella, in her simple yet shimmering white gown, appears. And that's her moment. All eyes, including the audience's, are on her.
The world seems to have stopped for the Prince and the newcomer. They dance the waltz in the ballroom; then they sing "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful" in the terrace.
The song is not easy to recall, but I remember the way sang it. How can a total stranger catch the fancy of a prince? How can they possibly fall in love with each other at first sight? There's no explanation, it's simply magic. And Cinderella and Prince Christopher are successful in making that scene truly enchanting.
And as we all know, the magic will be broken by the 12:00 o'clock curfew of Cinderella. She hastily leaves the palace, leaving one of her glass shoes. The Prince will command a full search, but the stewards will only see a maid running away from the palace. The notable thing here is the way Cinderella changes from the ball gown to maid's costume in a span of a few seconds.
The very next day, Herald goes house-to-house to look for the owner of the glass shoe. Portia and Joy, including their mother, will attempt to fit it. But they fail miserably. The Fairy Godmother enters the scene and asks the servants to check if there are other ladies in the house, there's none. Where's Cinderella?
In her shabby clothes, she wanders off to the Garden Terrace of the Palace and finds the Prince there. And with the help of the Fairy Godmother, Prince Christopher realizes that the lady facing him is the owner of the glass shoe...the woman he loves.
And they live happily ever after.
Except for the minor twist in the ending and the witty and hilarious lines of the characters, the Cinderella version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II stays true to that fairy tale I grew up with. Kids from five to fifty will get enchanted by the musical version.
I had a hard time hearing some of the lines from where I was seated—especially that part when the Queen sang with the King—but the message of the show is loud and clear: Impossible things truly happen!
I caught the Cinderella fever that night. I kept talking about it—was I spellbound? Or did magic play tricks on me?