It's an event-packed weekend July 11-13 in Los Angeles for Rodgers & Hammerstein -- that is, Mary Rodgers and James Hammerstein, two children of the late, famed Broadway musical writing and producing team.
Rodgers and Hammerstein are on a whirlwind LA swing, which includes visits to the Sony Studio set of the new two-hour Disney TV-movie musical adaptation of their fathers's Cinderella; meetings on the planned animated feature adaptation of their fathers's acclaimed The King and I, enjoying a successful Broadway revival; and the Hollywood Bowl's three-night salute to R&H.
Mary Rodgers is a composer in her own right with Once Upon A Mattress, and James Hammerstein is a co-producer of the Off Broadway revue I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. As co-director, he helped develop the stage version of R&H's movie musical State Fair. Both are on the board of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization and advise president and executive director Ted Chapin.
July 11-13, at the Hollywood Bowl, John Mauceri will conduct the HB Orchestra in a tribute, The Music of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The Oklahoma! segment will feature TV star Crystal Bernard as Ado Annie, TV and stage veteran Betty Garrett as Ado Annie, Linda Davis as Laurie, and Billy Dean as Curly.
On the Cinderella Set with Mary Rodgers and James Hammerstein
Rodgers and Hammerstein have spent two days watching assembled footage and listening to score playbacks of ABC's $10-million TV adaptation of Cinderella, which will air Sunday Nov. 2 (kicking off a new "Wonderful World of Disney"), and meeting the cast
Brandy, the 18- year-old pop singer plays the title role. She is joined by Whitney Houston (who had originally been set to play Cinderella) as the fairy godmother, Bernadette Peters as the wicked stepmother, Whoopi Goldberg as the queen, Paolo Montalban (from the King and I revival ensemble, where he was also understudy to Lun Tha) as the prince, Jason Alexander in the added role of the prince's steward, and Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle as the jealous stepsisters.
"It's been thrilling," Rodgers told Playbill On-Line. "These are the most incredible sets you've ever seen. I got a big kick out of the wicked stepmother's cottage, only this time it's no mere cottage. Bernadette is the stepmother so the cottage has been upgraded. It's glitzy and vulgar, as would be the stepmother's taste. Except for the kitchen where Cinderella works. It's still quite humble."
She feels the choice of Peters for the stepmother is "brilliant." She added that when Peters, whom she called ageless ("I can't believe she's looked the same for the last 30 years!") sings "Falling In Love with Love," "she puts a whole new spin on it."
Rodgers, seeing Montalban (no relation to Ricardo) walk around the lot in his undershirt, was also impressed with his casting as the prince. "He's a handsome devil! He's got the best bunch of muscles I've ever seen."
Directed by Bob Iscove (who directed the Broadway revival of Peter Pan starring Sandy Duncan and George Rose), choreographed by Broadway's Rob Marshall, and produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Maron (producers of TV's Gypsy starring Bette Midler and who've been trying to bring this new adaptation about for five years), the new version boasts non-traditional, or colorblind, casting; pop and rhythm & blues contemporary arrangements and orchestrations; and three songs interpolated from other R&H projects. Added to the original score are "There's Music in You," a song from an R&H film score, and songs composed by Rodgers from two other musicals, "The Sweetest Sounds" (No Strings,, lyrics by Rodgers) and "Falling in Love with Love" (The Boys from Syracuse, lyrics by Lorenz Hart).
As for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization's famous strictness with the R&H classics, she said, "We let people do what they think is right for a property if we trust the people, as we did with the English National Theatre revival of Carousel and the Australian The King and I, which has now been imported to Broadway. There's no point in giving a property to really talented people, who want to do something different, and then cripple them by saying they can't do it. When we're approached with bright ideas, we're quite liberal. I don't know where we got the reputation for being so mean."
She found the non-traditional casting "striking, especially the choice of Goldberg as the queen. That's special. Chris Montan, the head of Disney Music, who's been responsible for the sound in their recent animated hits, and music director Paul Bogaev have given the score a Broadway sound with a pop and soul feel. That approach in no way violates the spirit of the originals. The arrangement for Brandy's 'In My Own Little Corner' is exciting. She's a sweet, wonderful young woman with an incredible husky pop voice that's glorious."
As for the innovative idea of having Peters sing "Falling in Love with Love," Rodgers said, "That's an example of something we wouldn't have liked to do had the concept been to have the traditional ugly, nasty stepmother sing it. But there's something wonderful wry about Bernadette performing it. We knew she'd be brilliant and she doesn't disappoint."
Cinderella is the only musical R&H wrote exclusively for television. This is the third, and most elaborate, remake. The first two starred Julie Andrews (1957) and Lesley Ann Warren, respectively. The New York City Opera presented a new stage adaptation in November, 1993 starring Crista Moore as Cinderella (book adapted by Steve Allen and adapted for the stage and directed by Robert Johanson). The musical was presented again in 1995.
Will this new adaptation become the definitive version to license? "One is for TV and the other is for stage, but I can't image this one not being immensely successful."
In the case of the 1997 TV version, Robert Friedman has been allowed to liberally rewrite the book by Hammerstein and later Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse (frequent R&H collaborators). Rodgers found the new book "witty, in fact the whole thing is funnier."
On the set of Cinderella, after watching the scene where the prince and steward bring the lost slipper to Cinderella, Hammerstein said, "My father and Dick (Rodgers) would jump for joy over the incredible talents in this new adaptation and how it's been approached. The non-traditional casting, which is totally unselfconscious, would have made Dad shrug his shoulders and say, 'Why did it take so long?' After all, you're talking about the man who wrote the lyrics for '(You've Got To Be) Carefully Taught' (from South Pacific)."
-- By Ellis Nassour