The 1997 remake of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein TV musical, "Cinderella," will waltz into living rooms again Feb. 14, and producers will be watching closely.
The original "Wonderful World of Disney" broadcast of the reimagined, multicultural fairy tale -- with Brandy in the title role, Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother and Bernadette Peters as the Stepmother -- lured 60 million viewers Nov. 2, 1997. It earned the highest rating in 13 years for ABC in the 7-9 PM Sunday time slot.
Its subsequent video release has sold nearly 2 million units.
The smash hit status of "Cinderella" helped secure a future for musicals in the "Wonderful World of Disney" slot, producer Craig Zadan told Playbill On-Line Feb. 9. Storyline Entertainment, Zadan's production partnership with Neil Meron, is developing other TV musicals for Disney, including a reworking of the Broadway smash, Annie, considered to be a box office and artistic disappointment when it became a film in 1982.
If the "Cinderella" rebroadcast earns healthy ratings again, it would naturally increase the stock of the TV musical form. "Cinderella" was produced by Chris Montan and executive produced by Meron and Zadan. Among Zadan's producing credits is the film, "Footloose."
Musical theatre buffs treasure Zadan's authorized show-by-show document of the works of Stephen Sondheim, "Sondheim & Co.," which, Zadan said, will have a new edition in the future.
Zadan said he and Meron had been trying to get "Cinderella" off the ground for four years before they took the project to Disney. The R&H score and the family appeal of the project dovetailed nicely with Disney's plan to relaunch "The Wonderful World of Disney," a TV staple for many years before it went dormant, on ABC in 1997.
Zadan and Meron are responsible for resurrecting the TV musical, a popular form in the 1950s and 60s, when they produced "Gypsy" starring Bette Midler in 1993.
Other producers subsequently put together TV movies of "Bye Bye Birdie" (a ratings disappointment) and Jerry Herman's original TV musical, "Mrs. Santa Claus" (which fared better in numbers, and has "perennial" potential).
The cast of "Cinderella" includes Jason Alexander as Lionel, a new character created for this version; Whoopi Goldberg as the Queen; Paolo Montalban as the prince; and Veanne Cox (of New York's Company) as one of the wicked stepsisters.
The Rodgers & Hammerstein score includes "Ten Minutes Ago," "Impossible" and "Do I Love You." Three songs were added, including "The Sweetest Sounds" (from the No Strings score, with lyrics by Rodgers) sung by Brandy and the young prince; "There's Music in You," an R&H tune performed by Whitney Houston; and "Falling in Love With Love," a song from The Boys From Syracuse (with lyrics by Lorenz Hart), sung by Peters.
The lavish production cost $12 million -- one of the most expensive TV movies ever made.
R&H's only musical written expressly for television, "Cinderella" originally starred Julie Andrews, and was then remade for broadcast on CBS with Lesley Ann Warren. The musical made its New York stage debut at New York City Opera in 1994 with Crista Moore as Cinderella.
-- By Kenneth Jones
and Andrew Gans and David Lefkowitz