Stars and stargazers alike were out in full force on Monday, Oct. 27, for a screening of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella at New York's Sony Lincoln Square Theatre.
The invited overflow audience previewed the 90-minute Disney television film (airing on ABC on Sunday, Nov. 2 from 7-9 PM), which is overflowing with star performances,lavish sets, lush rainbow-hued costumes, and the songs from the original 1957 television play, which sound fresher than ever.
As an added treat, there are two vintage Rodgers melodies -- new to Cinderella but familiar to fans of the composer -- that fit into the film perfectly: "The Sweetest Sounds" (from No Strings, with lyrics by Rodgers himself), which is sung in the opening scene by Cinderella (18-year-old pop sensation Brandy) and her Prince (up-and-comer Paolo Montalban); and "Falling in Love with Love" (from The Boys From Syracuse, with lyrics by Hart), which is given the royal treatment by Bernadette Peters' lovably hateful Wicked Stepmother.
There is also a little known Rodgers & Hammerstein song,"There's Music in You," which is triumphantly served up at film's end by Fairy Godmother Whitney Houston. (This particular song has a nifty history: It was written for the 1953 MGM docudrama,Main Street to Broadway, in which Richard Richards and Oscar Hammerstein II are featured at the piano writing a song for a "new musical" [in reality a fictitious musical which merely served the plot of the film] set to star Mary Martin. The song was published in 1953 and recorded that same year by Bing Crosby, but in the ensuing four decades it disappeared -- until its current "Whitney-fying.") And at the eleventh hour of filming, lyricist Fred Ebb penned additional lyrics for the extended production number, "The Prince is Giving a Ball."
The audience -- which cheered and burst into spontaneous applause after every song, from "In My Own Little Corner" to "Ten Minutes Ago," so that at times it seemed more like a Broadway opening than a film screening -- was in agreement that everything about the TV play worked, which must be attributed in large part to Cinderella's scriptwriter, Robert L. Freedman; director, Robert Iscove; and music supervisor/conductor, Paul Bogaev. No expense was spared on Randy Ser's production design (the sets seemed right of Disneyland's Magic Kingdom) or on Ellen Mirojnick's costumes, which drew on every color in a box of Crayolas and then some: There were rich brocades in shades of deep red and hot pink, and Peters' and Houston's jewel encrusted numbers were positively breathtaking, as was Brandy's off-the-shoulder, diamond-studded ballgown -- in an ever-so-pale shade of blue. In fact, all of the women at the ball were decked out in vivid shades of blue -- from aqua to sapphire and royal -- and the memory of hundreds of couples spinning to Rob Marshall's choreography (which, at the ball, brought to mind Balanchine's "Vienna Waltzes") helped to make the film as memorable for adults as for the (mostly) well-behaved children in attendance.
At screening's end a crowd gathered around the film's stars: Brandy, Veanne Cox (one of the Wicked Stepsisters) Victor Garber (The King), Houston, Natalie Desselle (the other Wicked Stepsister) and Montalban. (Whoopi Goldberg, who plays the Queen, and Jason Alexander, who plays royal family attendant Lionel, were not able to attend.)
One audience member called Houston "a true fairy godmother for bringing Cinderella back to television." (Houston is one of the film's executive producers and she had originally planned to play Cinderella.)
David Krane, who arranged the Rodgers dance music for Cinderella, said that he worked on the film "for eight weeks earlier this year" in Los Angeles, and that he was "thrilled" to finally see the finished product.
Victor Garber, who said that he was "brought up on Rodgers & Hammerstein," said of the film, "It's extraordinary. I'm married to Whoopi Goldberg and I have an Asian son.
"Cinderella is about love and rising above misfortune. What could be better?" Garber concluded.
Note: Those eager for a sneak peek at Cinderella can go to the brand new Rodgers & Hammerstein website -- http://www.rnh.com -- for a RealVideo sequence from the upcoming TV special.
-- By Rebecca Paller