The new re-working of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" won't appeal to purists.
The original songs are all there, as well as the bones of the familiar story line. But little else from the 1957 musical remains in the update, which premiered on Broadway last year. The national touring show is at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday.
Surprisingly, it's the first Broadway run and the first national tour for the show, which Rodgers and Hammerstein created for television.
The new book, by Douglas Carter Beane, changes not just the plot, but the tone of the story as well. Magic and even romance are secondary to Beane's messages of generosity and kindness. The prince is plagued by self-doubt until he meets Cinderella, who teaches him how best to govern his people. Only one of Cinderella's two stepsisters is mean-spirited -- the other is actually her ally.
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Somehow, it works.
Beane -- whose best-known work includes the non-musical play "The Little Dog Laughed," the screenplay for "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" and the book for the stage musical "Xanadu" -- has created a story that fits in between the songs but feels modern. It's funny enough, in a silly, Pythonesque way, and offers some nice morals that are graspable for kids but won't insult the intelligence of adults.
It's not a great book, and a lot of the jokes are overly obvious and fall flat (The stepmother isn't always evil, one character says; sometimes she's asleep. And someone points out that the prince has a heart and brain, so he's unqualified to be a world leader.) But Beane's book is plenty strong enough to engage the audience in between all those marvelous Rodgers and Hammerstein songs.
No one will ever say that "Cinderella" is among the finest created by the best team in the history of American musicals, but even average Rodgers and Hammerstein songs are a treat.
It's easy to overlook any of the weaknesses in the script, thanks to some fine performances. Paige Faure is radiant as Cinderella, or Ella as she's billed here, and Kecia Lewis was the crowd favorite as Marie, the Fairy Godmother.
But even more impressive than the performances -- and almost as impressive as the Rodgers and Hammerstein score -- is the work of set designer Anna Louizas, costume designer William Ivey Long and choreographer Josh Rhodes. It's a low-tech but still magical staging, directed by Mark Brokaw. The effects are wondrous but old-fashioned, the costumes are a delicious complement to the dancing and the scenery is classically gorgeous. A fine pit 20-piece orchestra and impeccable sound (by Nevin Steinberg) and lighting (by Kenneth Posner) help make the new "Cinderella" the pleasant surprise that it is.
Details: Through Oct. 26, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $56-$95 plus service charge. Information: 813-229-7827, strazcenter.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.