"Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you..."
-Rochester to Jane Eyre

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Are you the sweet invention of a lover's dream or are you really as wonderful as you seem?"

If you know me, you'll know that the fairy tale Cinderella is in intregal part of my life. I can't really verbalize to the best of my ability. I'm sure many other little gay boys and heterosexual girls fantasized about being Cinderella as children. But there's something inherently lovely about Cinderella.

Cinderella is probably the world's greatest and most recognizable fairy tale, hence its popularity in various adaptations in literature, film, and music. One such adaptation is Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, adapted three times (1957, 1965, and 1997).

I grew up watching an old Beta tape version of the 1965 version starring a young Leslie Ann Warren as Cinderella, Walter Pigeon as the King, Ginger Rogers as the Queen, Celeste Holm as the Fairy Godmother, Stuart Damon as the Prince, Pat Carroll as Prunella, and Barbara Ruick as Esmerelda, and Jo Van Fleet as the Stepmother.

Last week, I watched the original version that was written for Julie Andrews after her success on Broadway as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. It's hard to compare Julie Andrews and Leslie Ann Warren. One because Julie Andrews of course will always trump Warren in vocal ability. However, I do think that they both play Cinderella very differently. At first, I found Warren's version more true to the fairy tale, but I see merit in both performances. Andrews plays Cinderella as an optimistic, stiff-upper-lip Brit. It's similar to Eliza Doolittle, but with 30% less sass. Cinderella is a tragic figure that has suffered a life emotional and physical hardships. Andrews looks perfectly at ease and quite happy "in her own little corner." But she doesn't look like she has such a terribly unhappy life. Even her clothes don't look Cinderella-like. They far more resemble Belle's blue and white peasant outfit from Beauty and the Beast.

On the other hand, Warren's performance is naivety manifested.Her face is purposely smudged with cinders and her clothes definitely resemble that of a scullery maid. Whereas Andrews plays the part with optimistic hopefullness, Warren plays Cinderella as a sad, naive young woman. I don't think either performance is necesarily the "definitive" one, but I do think each woman portrays her with great distinction.

As far as the other characters are concerned, there is certainly more comedic timing between the 1957 version's King and Queen(Howard Lindsey and Dorothy Stickney) over stuffy Walter Pidgeon and tapless Ginger Rogers.

But Stuart Damon's portrayl of the Prince is definitely superior to Jon Cypher's not only in vocal ability, but in look and feeling. Cypher looks far too old to be the Prince in my opinion. And Damon's voice radiates with a cool intensity when he sings the added song from South Pacific, "Loneliness of Evening."

Jo Van Fleet's stepmother is definitely more wicked than Ilka Chase, but the stepsisters are equally good in both versions. Pat Carroll (who would later do the voice of Ursula in The Little Mermaid) almost steals the show with her creaking knee.

"I cannot help it mother,"- she says.

"Yes, you can, rub some unicorn oil into it!"- Van Fleet.

I couldn't find a video of the 1965 version, except this awesome mashup with Disney's 1950 version.

Ruick does equally well batting her eyes incessantly. In the 1957 version Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostly (Bernice of Designing Women fame!) portray the stepsisters with hilarious results. Ballard is Portia, who must live up to her "namesake" in intelligence, but fails miserably. Ghostly, on the other hand, with great comedic timing puts the "joy" in her namesake.

Now, if you had a fairy godmother, who would you prefer, zainy Edie Adams or grandmotherly Celeste Holm?

I'm gonna go with Edie Adams. In the 1957 version, Adams is just Cinderella's godmother. Cinderella has no idea of her magical abilities. I liked that aspect. Also towards the end of the musical, Adams cheekily tells a palace guard to arrest Andrews for trespassing on the palace grounds and that "you should try the slipper on her, just for a laugh!"

It is this kind of sarcastic, cheeky humor that packs a punch over Celeste Holm's dreamy-eyed whimsicalness.

The 1957 version was live, whereas the 1965 version was taped. Both versions have ridiculous sets, yet for the time they were impressive. The costumes in the 1965 version must have been tie-died in some kind of psychodelic laundry. Apparently the 1957 version was broadcast in color, but the only remaining copy on DVD is in black and white. So I have no basis to judge the color schemes in that version; however, the costumes themselves are more Regency Period ala Jane Austen than anything else.

Overall, of the two versions I liked the ending to the 1957 version the best. The stepmother and stepsisters immediately did a 360 and became nice to Cinderella with comedic results. Within the 1965 version, the ladies' conversion is definitely forced with a shout from the Prince.

Both versions are equally charming. Now, to get to the latest remake from 1997 with Brandy, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garbor, and Bernadette Peters.

The idea is good. Have a multi-racial cast. Check. Have a black Cinderella for a change. Check. Have an even more magical atmosphere than the previous two....ugh negative.

The main problem is that our heroine Brandy cannot act and her singing abilities are subpar to Andrews and Warren. Bernadette Peters is the saving grace of this superficial mess as the stepmother. Thank God they gave her her own song to sing.

I've still always wondered how a white king and black queen can produce a Pacific Islander son?

But I digress, if you want to enjoy Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, stick to the original or its equally charming remake in the 60s. Avoid the 90s like the plague and you just might make it past midnight for a happily ever after.

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