For a generation of TV baby boomers, it seems impossible they first met 18-year-old Lesley Ann Warren half a century ago in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
Alas, as Warren sang with Fairy Godmother Celeste Holm in the 1965 CBS television classic, it’s possible.
“I’m never over it. Never over it,” Warren, now 68, repeats for emphasis. “The kind of mail that I get — I just got this letter from a young man who was hit by a car in a semi. He had all these broken bones and skin grafting, and he said the only thing that kept him going was singing In My Own Little Corner from my production, and how that show gave him all this hope. I get letters like that all the time, all the time about how people’s lives were altered by what they experienced by watching it. The kind of hope — they keep using the word ‘hope’ — and a sense of possibility. So for me, it’s a legacy that I feel, still, so overwhelmed to have been given this gift and then to be able to have imparted something that has moved people so much.”
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Warren says most of her mail comes from “girls and gay men who have a real identification with feeling outside the circle.”
Promoting a newly mastered Cinderella DVD ($20, Shout! Factory), Warren on Sept. 23 stepped onto the stage of the Broadway Theatre in New York and joined the cast of the current theatrical production of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s only TV musical, which opens Tuesday at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.
“When I went to see the Broadway production, I got moved to tears again just by the exquisite music. They had me sing with them Impossible. It was so much fun. It was incredible, you know, a standing ovation. It was just fantastic,” Warren says.
The Broadway show barely resembles the all-star spectacular in which Warren starred with Holm, Ginger Rogers, Walter Pidgeon, Stuart Damon, Pat Carroll and Barbara Ruick.
“The whole production is quite different from our production. When we did it, it was treated very seriously, we weren’t taking any license,” Warren says. “Of course, Richard Rodgers had a real belief in the central story of a young girl, basically abused and abandoned and creating a world of her own where there was hope and a possibility of a wonderful, beautiful life ahead of her.”
The current Broadway hit, with a book written by Tony-winning Douglas Carter Beane, offers “a contemporary sensibility of all the characters,” she says.
“There’s a lot of contemporary humor. There is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to it,” Warren says. “I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, it’s just very different. Ours is very heartfelt and emotional. Theirs is lighter and has more humor. ... Children certainly would adore both of them.”
The musical retains the best of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s original score (In My Own Little Corner, Ten Minutes Ago; Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?, Impossible; It’s Possible) and incorporates several songs cut from earlier R&H musicals, including There’s Music in You and Now Is the Time, both originally written for 1949’s South Pacific.
Beane’s isn’t the first rewrite of the musical Cinderella. Rodgers and Hammerstein conceived it as a live color special in 1957 — CBS’s magical answer to Mary Martin’s Peter Pan on NBC. British musical performer Julie Andrews, then starring on Broadway in Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady, first gained U.S. attention playing Cinderella.
Andrews’ dress-rehearsal performance was recorded on low quality kinescope, and no one saw Cinderella, with teleplay by Hammerstein, after its initial live broadcast on March 31, 1957.
Hammerstein died in 1960, shortly after his final show, The Sound of Music, opened on Broadway. Four years later, Rodgers resurrected Cinderella — teleplay rewritten by Joseph Schrank — and cast Warren in the title role. The production was recorded on higher quality videotape and annually repeated by CBS for a decade. That’s the version recently reissued on DVD.
In 1997, Walt Disney Television and Executive Producer Whitney Houston revived Cinderella with a new star, Brandy, and new teleplay based on Hammerstein’s, by Robert L. Freedman. Houston played the fairy godmother; Bernadette Peters the wicked stepmother; and Whoopi Goldberg as the queen.
Despite its pedigree, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella never played Broadway until two years ago, although the Tony Awards considered it a revival during the 2013 theater season.
Beane, who won a Tony in 2008 for Xanadu, was nominated for his 2013 book.
“It’s much more a story about kindness than beauty,” Beane says of his version. “Kindness is a wonderful thing for a woman to have, much more than beauty. With it anything is possible.”
Beane mocks the classic Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella: “A woman meets a man under false pretenses once, leaves an article of clothing and then he psychotically stalks her,” he says. “That’s America’s gift to children’s literature, right there.”
“People only know the version they grew up with, and they’re slightly perturbed when anyone does anything to it,” says Beane, who also wrote the 1995 screenplay for To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar. “I was really taken by the Perrault version. The Grimm version was dark, and I wasn’t interested in doing it at all.”
In the Charles Perrault version, Cinderella forgives her two stepsisters and everyone lives happily ever after; in the Grimm version, pigeons peck out the stepsisters’ eyes.
Beane was born in 1959, two years after Andrews’ Cinderella. He grew up watching Warren’s.
“I remember as a kid that Cinderella was coming,” he says. “Just like Wizard of Oz.”
Actress Paige Faure grew up in the 1980s and ’90s and never saw the 1965 version. She played Cinderella for three months last summer on Broadway, then was chosen to star in the show’s first touring production.
Faure, who stars opposite actor Andy Jones as Prince Topher, says she isn’t intimidated filling Andrews’ and Warren’s glass slippers.
“I have to trust that our director, Mark Brokaw, our choreographer [Josh Rhodes] and Douglas, everybody who approved me being cast in this role, knew they liked what they saw,” Faure says. “So I just have to do everything I can to be as genuine and authentic in the role as I can, and bring new life to these songs and just know that the message is what’s most important — the journey of this human, Cinderella, is important — and remain true to that.”
Beane’s updated script “has really driven home the message of empowerment and positivity and kindness, charity, generosity. All the kind of things that our world needs to hear right now,” Faure says.
“This is not a one-dimensional princess story by any means,” she says. “We really have taken the time to delve into each character’s journey. Each character goes through a very human journey, especially Cinderella, who starts at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of her life and being a servant and kind of beaten down by her circumstances, to the end of the play, where she is recognizing both her own potential and helping those around her recognize their potential, as well.”
If you go
What: ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2
Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House, Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Tickets: $26-$106 each. www.arshtcenter.org or 305-949-6722