Eartha Kitt, known for playing the musical vamp through her stage and concert career, will be the leggy Fairy Godmother in the new national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, the SFX Theatrical Group NETworks presentation inspired by the recent nontraditionally cast TV musical.
Recent Tony Award nominee Kitt (Broadway's The Wild Party) replaces the previously-announced Diahann Carroll in the project directed by Gabriel Barre. The tour, which will play at least through summer 2001, begins Nov. 28 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
Kitt also toured with the recent national tour of The Wizard of Oz, playing the Wicked Witch. On Broadway, her credits include Timbuktu! and New Faces of 1952.
Barre, who helmed Off-Broadway's The Wild Party, will work with choreographer Ken Roberson and designers James Youmans (set), Pamela Scofield (costumes) and Tim Hunter (lighting).
The exact nature of the script and score is still not clear, but the core of the piece has Oscar Hammertein II's conception and lyrics from various TV and stock productions, and music by Richard Rodgers. *
What remains unclear is how much the tour will borrow ideas from the hit 1997 TV movie, which had a multicultural cast (an African American Queen, a white King, a Filipino Prince) and a script and score (with new interpolations) somewhat different from the classic 1957 and 1965 TV productions of the tuner (the only show R&H wrote for the small screen).
The 1997 "Wonderful World of Disney" broadcast is also different from the Hammerstein script that is licensed to stock and amateur groups several hundred times a year (itself using different interpolations).
A spokesman for The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization told Playbill On-Line June 2 that a new script is being developed based on the Hammerstein original and drawing from various productions over the years. A songlist is still being pounded out, but the standout songs of the now-classic score will likely be intact. Several generations of musical fans grew up with such tunes as "Ten Minutes Ago," "Impossible," "The Stepsisters' Lament" and "In My Own Little Corner."
There have been changes over the years to each version of the R&H "Cinderella" project: The 1965 version included an interpolated song ("Boys and Girls Like You and Me," cut from Oklahoma!), the 1993 New York City Opera staging added another tune ("The Loneliness of Evening," cut from South Pacific) and the licensed stage script has borrowed other R&H songs.
The flashier 1997 version starred Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother and Brandy in the title role (a part previous played by Julie Andrews in 1957 and Lesley Ann Warren in 1965). A new teleplay and interpolations of "The Sweetest Sounds" (with music and lyrics by Rodgers, from No Strings), "Falling in Love With Love" (with lyrics by Lorenz Hart, from The Boys From Syracuse), "There's Music in You" (from the film, "Main Street to Broadway") and "Your Majesties/The Prince is Giving a Ball" (with new lyrics by Fred Ebb) were included in the new movie, which was seen by 60 million people.
A further tour schedule is expected soon.
Storyline Entertainment, Disney and ABC -- the telepic's producers -- are not involved in the tour, according to their representatives.
Not content to stay in its own little corner on the TV screen, the smash 1997 ratings hit, "Cinderella," was first discussed as a stage possibility in 1999, but back then it was thought Disney might be a major player in the tour.
The new TV movie used newly orchestrated and arranged versions of songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
The 1997 cast included Jason Alexander (the Valet), Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle (Stepsisters), Victor Garber (the King), Whoopi Goldberg (the Queen), newcomer Paolo Montalban (the Prince) and Bernadette Peters (the Stepmother).
-- By Kenneth Jones