New York City Opera revives Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella just as the original TV version of the musical is about to make its home video debut.
The R&H Cinderella starred Julie Andrews, then in the midst of her run in the biggest Broadway hit of its era: My Fair Lady, in which she played the Cinderella-like role of Eliza Doolittle. Among the other stars of the TV spectacular were newcomer Jon Cypher as the handsome prince, Edith (later "Edie") Adams as Cinderella's glamorous fairy godmother, Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley as her cosmetically challenged stepsisters, Ilka Chase as her stepmother, and Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney -- virtually forgotten now but theater royalty in those days -- as the king and queen.
"The challenge for Rodgers and Hammerstein was to write something for television," says Ted Chapin, president and executive director of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, "and so they stayed pretty close to the fairy tale. It's basically a straightforward, middle-of-the-road telling of the story. Unlike most of their other shows, Cinderella can stand a little bit of pushing from one side to the other in terms of tone. When Richard Rodgers did the remake in 1964, there were different songs added; he put in "Loneliness of Evening," which had been cut from South Pacific, and they used "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" [originally written for Oklahoma!] as underscoring in the ball sequence."
Adds Chapin, "It's interesting that, in some of the press surrounding the original airing of Cinderella, Rodgers and Hammerstein were quoted as saying they were going to adapt it for the stage -- so they had that somewhere in their minds. But then they licensed the property to Harold Fielding for a London production that interpolated songs from Me and Juliet -- and I think Tommy Steele, who starred in the show, also wrote a song that they added. It seems that Rodgers and Hammerstein signed an agreement with Fielding, collected whatever money there was, and then went on with other things in their lives. That was unusual for them."
Given the enormous popularity of the 1957 Cinderella -- and given the fact that there was no proper preservation of the live telecast, so it could not be repeated -- it's not surprising that numerous stage versions of the property soon began to turn up Stateside. "Donald Driver did a version that was premiered at the St. Louis MUNY in 1961," says Chapin. "When I started working for R&H years later, the idea of doing a new stage version was being discussed. There was some question as to whether it was going to go back to the original version or if it was going to be a new adaptation, so I walked into a bit of a quagmire. I thought, 'Gee, shouldn't we be offering what the guys wrote? If people want to do adaptations, shouldn't they at least start from what was done originally?' So that's what we did: The current score and script that we license are very close to the original TV version. 'Boys and Girls Like You And Me' and 'Loneliness of Evening' are the only interpolations."
Cinderella has had many reincarnations over the decades. Chapin recalls a Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production in which Faith Prince played one of the stepsisters and a young woman named Kathleen Marshall was in the chorus. Eartha Kitt first took on the role of the fairy godmother in a tour that played New York in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. "That was based on the 1997 TV version with Brandy and Whitney Houston," says Chapin, "but it ended up being a cobbling-together of various versions." For many years, the property was best known through the 1965 TV remake that starred Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella; since that production was videotaped, it was granted many repeat telecasts.