PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Cinderella; The Very Best Foot Forward

By Harry Haun
04 Mar 2013

Marla Mindelle
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Scripter Beane has rounded out her new and positively improved character with some good humor. “I worked with Doug in Sister Act at this same theatre with this same crew,” she notes. “I felt like he knew me and he knew my sense of humor. I felt as the show was going along that he was really writing things that he knew I could deliver and maybe get a laugh on, which I really appreciated.”

Given Gabrielle’s defection to the side of the angels, Ann Harada’s Charlotte is left holding the bag of nastiness all by her five-foot self. This change alters the punctuation of the second-act curtain-raiser—“Stepsister’s Lament” instead of “Stepsisters’ Lament,” allowing Harada to lead the other hoop-skirted lasses in berating the mysterious interloper who had just made off with the prince’s heart.

“It’s one of the classics of that score, and to be able to sing that song is really a thrill,” she says. “I love doing it. The first time we did it in front of people, it got applause right in the middle—and we were, like, ‘Oooooo! We’re singing the hit!’”

She is also the lucky recipient of some of Beane’s most bracingly contemporary wisecracks. “Ann Harada, who I like to call Ann Erota, had a nerve to say to me one time when I cut one of her lines that wasn’t working, ‘Doug, they don’t all have to be ding-dongs.’ That’s what gave me the idea. I went, ‘What if I wrote a part, and every line was a ding-dong?’ So I wrote this part for her. Every time she speaks—if it didn’t get a laugh, I’d cut it—so every time she speaks now she gets a big laugh.”

Beane says the role that was the most fun for him to write—for personal reasons—was the mean-spirited, pretentious stepmother. “Well, Madame is based on my Grandma Carter. She was bipolar, let’s say, so I loved the idea of putting that on stage. One moment she’s funny and nice, and then she’s a horror. She was big on ripping.” Behind the withering wit lurks, perhaps, his own August: Osage County.

Harriet Harris
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Harriet Harris gets her laughs with Madame’s arch elitism and selfish short-sightedness, but she refuses to hammer out an irredeemable villainess. “I think she’s like everybody’s evil stepmother. She’s a human. She’s not a monster, but she’s somebody who doesn’t put your interests first and that’s the person who should be putting your interest first because they are in charge and they should be figuring out ways to make your life wonderful—enriching your life instead of oppressing you.”

Harada and Harris are both keen on their co-stars. “Isn’t it Murderers’ Row?” says the former. “That’s how I think of it. ‘If I don’t get that laugh, you’re going to get it.’”

Harris feels the company has come together and strengthened in the playing of the piece. “That’s just a thing of balance that happens from week to week. There are things that have come into focus more. I’m sure the relationships are stronger than they were because we didn’t do this out of town. We’re doing this in front of New York. I think they knew they had a great book and a great design concept, but it does mean we needed these 40 previews to have a chance to solidify the relationships.”

Harris and Peter Bartlett, who plays something of medieval Dick Cheney for the prince, form a funny, but fleeting, alliance only once—but they play the scene in exactly the same comic key, betraying a past of comic compatibility on stage. “Paul Rudnick has written two things that Peter and I were in together—Jeffrey and Rude Entertainment, and that was at a theatre Doug used to run. This is the third time I’ve worked with Peter, and it’s the third time I’ve worked with Mark Brokaw—and I hope it’s not the last that I work with either one of them because they’re great.”