14 March 2010

Cinderella (1965)

Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella Never Gets Old
By Kristin Battestella

I’m not a girly girl by any means, but I do have a few purely indulgent, guilty pleasure pictures, and the 1965 Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is one of them. There’s really no reason for an adult to see this television production now and fall in love; but for those of us who grew up with such charming songs and costumes, this Cinderella can still get us singing along.

After a year of adventure rescuing princesses and slaying dragons, the Prince (Stuart Damon) returns home to seek his bride. Along the road, the Prince and his entourage stop at a cottage for a drink of water. The servant girl there, Cinderella (Leslie Ann Warren), is home alone, but overcomes her fears with kindness for the guests. Later, Cinderella’s cruel Stepmother (Jo Van Fleet) and two Step Sisters Prunella (Pat Carroll) and Esmeralda (Barbara Ruick) make ready for the Prince’s homecoming ball, where the King (Walter Pidgeon) and Queen (Ginger Rogers) hope their son will find a bride. Cinderella wishes she herself could attend the ball and marry the Prince, and shortly her Fairy Godmother (Celeste Holm) appears to show her nothing is impossible!

Rodgers & Hammerstein's CinderellaSome classic audiences might remember Rogers and Hammerstein’s first 1957 television production starring the wonderful Julie Andrews, but I suspect most viewers think of this musical version before all others-except for the Disney animated tale of course. Some of Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics are a little anachronistic for the fantasy medieval setting, but who cares? Long time television director Charles S. Dublin (Hawaii Five-O, Kojak, MASH, Matlock) swiftly handles the silent, dramatic scenes and balances the fun and light-hearted romance with Richard Rogers’ songs. Though not entirely for a juvenile audience, the composers of such classics as South Pacific, Oklahoma!, and The King and I touch your inner childhood with enchanting music of love, charm, and adventure. Maybe ‘In My Own Little Corner’ is a little silly, just like the ‘Impossible! It’s Possible!’ medley. ‘Ten Minutes Ago’ and ‘Do I Love Because Your Beautiful’ are indeed sappy. However, who just started singing along as you read those song titles? Cinderella is charming, catchy, fun, and even a little inspiring for the young and young at heart.

The same audiences who grew up on Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella are also probably the same audiences who watched the long running and now slowly dying network daytime soap operas. Those viewers will of course recognize Stuart Damon at the Prince, for the long time General Hospital patriarch proves he’s more than a one trick pony with some fine vocal talent. He’s a little mellow and lovey dovey, of course, but having a good time-just like his onscreen parents Ginger Rogers (Top Hat, Kitty Foyle, Monkey Business) and Walter Pidgeon (Mrs. Miniver, Madame Curie, How Green Was My Valley). Despite all the musical flare, it’s nice to see Rogers in a non-dance spectacular role, and she looks medievalriffic as the Queen. Likewise, Pigeon has fun with the revered but good-natured King with his son’s best interests at heart.

Lesley Ann Warren’s (Clue, Victor Victoria, In Plain Sight) debut here as Cinderella is a little imperfect, but delightful nonetheless. Her voice isn’t bad, but a little too raw or untrained. Warren’s capable ballet skills are also oddly displayed in a weird, somewhat out of place solo interlude- but when you’re looking at the fourth wall, pointing to mice that aren’t on your Astroturf lawn, it’s all okay. Warren is all smiles, loveable to young and old, and clearly enjoying herself with this magical introduction. Also bewitching us is Celeste Holm (All About Eve, Gentleman’s Agreement) as the Fairy Godmother. Her tongue-twisting tune isn’t easy to deliver, but Holm carries herself with the necessary grace and charm. It’s such fun to see these classic elder actors being able to perform, give back, and have a good time-unlike today where visuals and effects can overtake performance and style. Wicked Stepmother Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) and Pat Carroll (Too Close for Comfort, The Little Mermaid) and Barbara Ruick (Carousel) as her less than desirable daughters are like three kitschy blind mice. You love to hate them, but look forward to all their witty scenes. Their songs are understandably a little off key and for the humor, but the bad girl fun is just as juicy as all the fairy tale love: ‘Why would anyone want a girl like her-a girl who’s merely lovely!’

Although the music, story, and performances in Cinderella have stood the test of time, the cardboard sets and stage like production can hinder modern audiences. On one hand, yes by gosh they are absolutely hokey looking and completely fake and pathetic. Honesty, is there a green Styrofoam topiary tree in Cinderella’s garden? However, Cinderella’s châteaux also has a fun fireplace and a great set of stairs upon which to pretend. Likewise, the chandeliers and palace interiors set the mood for the big ball. Fans of musical theater won’t have a problem letting the minimal set design spark the mood, but I worry that contemporary, CGI obsessed effects mavens can’t appreciate the idea of pointing a camera at a dressed stage and letting people work. Cinderella has lovely waltzes, great songs, even horses on set! This was the height of television production heights back in the day!

The costumes are also not quite accurate to a particular time period, going rather for a mix of fantasy looks and styles from any and all medieval varieties. Nevertheless, they are delightful and everyone in the production is surely in the mood with such great outfits! Costume enthusiasts will spot the use of bright and shiny modern fabrics and way too many truncated henins–that’s the big pointy princess hat every little girl simply must have growing up that actually was as historically brief as the also appearing beehive. But come on now, ‘unicorn oil’ is also named as the remedy for Prunella’s creaking knee! Though there’s not much that can be done to fix innate blips in the onscreen values, the Cinderella DVD does have some fine sound and even a few features. The Retrospective is short, but it’s nice to see Lesley Ann Warren, Stuart Damon, and Celeste Holm recall Rogers and Hammerstein, their favorite songs, and the ambitious production.

Naturally, modern audiences have probably moved on from the dated look here to the 1997 Disney update with Brandy and Whitney Houston leading a multi-talented, lavish, culturally ambiguous version- but the young at heart who grew up with Cinderella can watch again and again and sing along just as though nearly fifty years haven’t gone by. Younger folks like me who were fortunate enough to get some viewings in as a child can also still enjoy. Very young viewers might still be charmed, as will musical and medieval fans, but tweens and up are probably better served by the 1997 redo. Pick up the DVD of the 1965 version today or dig out your video copy and sing along late at night in your own little corner in your own little chair with Cinderella.

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