[Warning: The following review includes SPOILERS and one unapologetic use of an f-bomb.]
Tim Hendrickson, United States Army veteran, father to an adorable little girl, and fan of the battle cry "Leroy Jenkins!" isn't your average Bros on Broadway bro. He's seen some musicals in his day, and knows a good fouette turn when he sees one. (Even if he can't remember its name.) But when Hendrickson explained his daughter had been dressing like Cinderella for the better part of a year while playing the Disney film on loop, we knew he was the dude-dad for the mission to see whether Broadway's new musical take the world's most famous makeover story was daughter-friendly, or a misfire.
Occupation: Director of Veteran Services, non-profit sector
Bro cred: Former Army tank officer, served two tours of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Fun fact: Tim once won a pie eating contest, a tricycle in a raffle, and a game of Texas Hold Em' all in the same day. Besides the day his child was born, he considers it the luckiest day of his life.
Show Reviewed: Cinderella
So a little background as a disclaimer:
Unlike some of the "bros" I have seen my fair share of theater, or what I would consider a fair share. Now, the most the average military guy like me ever sees onstage are girls named Candy, Elektra, Sensation...
But then I met my future wife, a real girl with 16 years of real dance experience and a love of theater. I really liked this girl and realized I better, as they say, "culture the f*** up," if I wanted to be with her. So we saw some plays. We got married, had a little one, and now I've been asked to see if Broadway's new Cinderella is something the kid, and wife, would enjoy. And I'm perfect for the assignment.
You see, I suffer from a little-known disorder called Repeated Exposure to Disney syndrome. ("Seeing RED," for short.) It occurs when you have a toddler who enjoys Disney films so much that you sit through 4-6 iterations a day of the SAME film for, oh, six months before she finally latches onto a different one. [See above photo, in which toddler dressed as Cinderella and father view film for 900th time.] I've already earned my Cinderella Medal of Honor--I was freaking singing "bibbidy-bobiddy-boo" in the shower not too long ago, so I figured this would be a cinch.
The first thing I notice when I get to Broadway Theatre is the stage--it's covered in trees. Lights out, orchestra up, and there's Cinderella (Laura Osnes), prancing through this forest, picking up fruit and crap while singing. Too bad there are so many trees in the way, because I'd like to actually see her, but whatever--it's a two-and-something hour play, I'll probably get to see her at some point. Next she runs off, the trees clear away, and a random giant tree-monster thing, like a Godzilla movie reject, comes out, swatting away knights in armor left and right. A thought crosses my mind: This is going to be a long two-and-something hours. Oh, and I use the term "armor" loosely. The knights looked like the cheesy plastic He-Man playsets my Dad used to buy me to shut me up. But maybe I'm biased on the armor point. You can't have soldiers doing pirouettes in 70 lbs, of gear, right? Maybe some guys can. I know I can't.
But I digress. The prince (Santino Fontana) comes out, slays the tree-monster thing, slays a dragon, and in the first real lines of dialogue introduces his good comedic presence, which was great throughout the whole show. Then I get my first really good look at Cinderella, and she's gorgeous. Not just gorgeous. The total package gorgeous. The singing, the dancing, the comedic timing, long flowing hair--all this in servant's garb--and a captivating smile? You can't help being mesmerized. She and the cast get into Occupy Wall Street vs. "the 1%" jokes that the adults in the crowd laugh at, and I think, "Maybe this won't be that bad." You know, it's been funny so far--and at the very least I can look at her for a while. (I mean I'm married, not dead.)
But that sets the tone for the whole play. Every time I think it's getting pretty good, like during a dance routine or a series of good jokes, the show does something cheesy or bizarrely political that brings back the annoyance I felt at the beginning. The inconsistency is making it good, but not great, and I've got a decent amount of eye-rolling going. However, I'm not here for me. I'm here to determine whether or not my little girl would like the play, and be able to sit through it without begging to go home, or to the bathroom, or for me to get her M&M's every 5 minutes.
The truth is: maybe. Maybe, at age 4, she could get through it. But you have to remember, 4-6 times a day for six months is a lot of Disney's Cinderella. She's used to seeing Lucifer the Cat, and lots of birds and mice sewing and s**t. The only animals on stage are two sock puppets, and while they're good, I don't think they'd be enough to hold her in her seat when she's looking for more. The same goes for the rest of the show. Yes, the dance numbers are fantastic, but they're too spread out for a really young child's attention span. Yes, the fairy godmother (Victoria Clark) comes--she and the evil stepmother (Harriet Harris) are both awesome in their roles, by the way--and transforms Cinderella into the sparkling girl in the white gown and glass slippers, but blink and you might miss it. Don't get me wrong, it is visually stunning how in a quick twirl Cinderella can go from rags to her white gown right in front of your eyes, in the middle of the stage. The technique, expertise, and invention used to pull that off is unbelievable, but is your 4-year-old going to appreciate it on that level? Will they see it if they look away for a second? Probably not.
The performances are very good overall, and the show has great comedic moments. I was particularly fond of the Lord Protector Sebastian character, who struck me as a Denethor, Steward-of-Gondor-type doing stand up. But in the end, the back and forth between good musical material and random story changes became a bit much. The whole gimmick of transforming Cinderella not once but twice, for not just the ball but a banquet as well, seemed pretty cheesy. Is that really the best the writers could come up with? I was also surprised to see so much political content in Cinderella. For the most part in the military, people keep their politics to themselves. We're there to do our jobs, not debate the decisions being made by the powers that be. Sure I laughed at the jokes, but really, why would I want to hear this stuff when bringing my kid to a musical? Does the story of Cinderella really need prime minister elections? Nope.
And the way in which it ends--all is forgiven, let's have a wedding, wrap this up wham-bam-thank-you–ma'am--left me feeling like they were rushed for time and just jammed it on there. Sure, Cinderella looks spectacular in her wedding dress, and I'm sure my little one would love to see her all dressed up that way, but by that point in all the plot turns and slower songs I've probably lost her to the coloring book my wife brought in her purse.
So here's my recommendations for both adults and kids thinking about taking this in:
Guys, if you want to take the lady friend with you, it's definitely worth it. If there is a bigger show on your bucket list, go for that first, but I wouldn't discard Cinderella completely. It may not be on Broadway as long as Cats was, but definitely belongs on Broadway. If you have a daughter that is a little older than mine (meaning she still loves princesses and weddings), and you're trying to hold onto the last vestige of Daddy-Daughter experiences before you lose her to the Snooki's and cell phones of the world, AND she's old enough to sit still for two hours, it's worth a shot. But if you've got one around my age, do yourself a favor and go with Disney on Ice. You might get a snow cone out of it.