As the cast and creative team behind ABC's 1997 TV movie of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella prepare to celebrate the film's 25th anniversary with a reunion special on 20/20, we're taking a look back at the landmark TV event starring Brandy, Whitney Houston, Bernadette Peters, Victor Garber, Paolo Montalban, and more.
Initially aired November 2, 1997, as part of the Wonderful World of Disney lineup on ABC, the film features Brandy as Cinderella opposite Houston as the Fairy Godmother, with a number of theatre luminaries rounding out the cast. Bernadette Peters co-stars as the Stepmother with Veanne Cox and the late Natalie Desselle as Stepsisters Calliope and Minerva, respectively. Whoopi Goldberg plays Queen Constantina, with Victor Garber as King Maximillian, Paolo Montalbán as Prince Christopher, and Jason Alexander as the valet Lionel.
ABC estimated that more than 60 million people watched the program live. The special was noted at the time for its colorblind casting that resulted in a celebrated multi-cultural representation. "It’s extraordinary," said Victor Garber at the NYC premiere in 1997. "I’m married to Whoopi Goldberg, and I have an Asian son."
In addition, the score was expanded to give more vocal work to three of the leading ladies. Brandy and Montalbán sing “The Sweetest Sounds” from No Strings, Peters sings “Falling in Love With Love” from The Boys From Syracuse, and Houston sings “There's Music in You” over the finale.
READ: Cinderella, a Richard Rodgers Mix-Tape: Which Tunes Come From Other Shows?
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is directed by Robert Iscove and written by Robert L. Freedman, based on Oscar Hammerstein II’s original book. Houston (who originally optioned the project to star as Cinderella but passed the torch along to Brandy after years of development shakeups) co–executive produced with Debra Martin Chase, Craig Zadan, and Neil Meron. Chris Montan was a producer, and Robyn Crawford was an associate producer.
The creative team included choreographer Rob Marshall (five years before his Hollywood success with Chicago), costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, and music director Paul Bogaev. In 1998, Cinderella scored seven Primetime Emmy Award nominations, including one win for the Outstanding Art Direction for a Variety or Music Program going to production designer Randy Ser, art director Edward L. Rubin, and set decorator Julie Kaye Fanton.