‘Cinderella’ at the Arsht Center: a delightful makeover

Every Cinderella story needs makeovers — even the Cinderella story — and the ones in Rodgers + Hamerstein’s Cinderella, at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, range from mildly snarky to spectacular.

The 2013 Broadway musical, packed with songs that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote for their 1957 first and only made-for-TV musical, has a new book by playwright and screenwriter Douglas Carter Beane. The kind of observant wit Beane has brought to his wide-ranging work (everything from As Bees in Honey Drown to The Nance to the books for Xanadu and Sister Act) helps make the touring Cinderella more interesting for adults. Thank you, Mr. Beane.

The other transformative wizard involved in Cinderella is costume designer William Ivey Long, who has six Tony Awards, including one for his work on this show. Much of the magic that happens in an instant, right before our very eyes, is due to Long’s inventive, spectacular designs.

In one moment, a madwoman called Marie (Kecia Lewis) appears to be a gray-haired beggar in a cloak. Then, presto change-o, she’s Cinderella’s fairy godmother, a lovely woman with wavy brown hair and a statement-making magenta gown.

The transformations for Ella (Paige Faure), aka Cinderella, are equally quick and breathtaking. In the first, she goes from her cinder-covered everyday outfit to a pristine white ballgown, tiara and crystal-covered “glass” slippers. In the second, it’s rags to ravishing once again, as she instantly exchanges her humdrum dress for a glittering golden gown that makes her look a bit like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Snazzy.

Those nods to works that came long after Cinderella are deliberate and beneficial in making the show resonate with a 21st century audience. As much as the show owes to the Charles Perrault fairytale on which it’s based, it also borrows a bit (at least in sensibility) from musicals like Shrek and Wicked.

Following in the delicate footsteps of Julie Andrews, Lesley Ann Warren and Brandy Norwood (TV Cinderellas all), Faure brings a clarion soprano and graceful loveliness to the title role. It’s simply a pleasure to listen to In My Own Little Corner, Impossible, Ten Minutes Ago, Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful? — well, everything she sings sounds gorgeous. Rodgers and Hammerstein would be pleased.

Andy Jones has a dual challenge in playing the handsome leading man and amusing neophyte politician Prince Topher, the guy who becomes Cinderella’s squeeze. His voice blends beautifully with Faure’s in their swoon-worthy duets.

Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters get their own makeovers in this version of the tale. As her stepmom Madame, Beth Glover isn’t so much evil as self-absorbed and demanding. Former South Florida actress Aymee Garcia is a hoot as the comically delusional Charlotte, and Ashley Park is actually a pretty good egg as Gabrielle, the step sis who forms an alliance with Cinderella.

Also notable are Carbonell Award winner Blake Hammond as Sebastian, Topher’s manipulative adviser; David Andino as political agitator (and Gabrielle’s beau) Jean-Michel; Antoine L. Smith as the big-voiced herald, Lord Pinkleton; and Lewis as the fairy godmother who makes a kind-hearted, socially conscious young woman’s dreams come true.

Director Mark Brokaw and choreographer Josh Rhodes (whose work on the ball sequence is particularly imaginative) keep the story flowing, to the obvious delight of an audience jam-packed with theatergoers whose ages haven’t yet hit double digits. Is this show as gloriously entertaining as Wicked? Not by a long shot. But thanks to a beloved story, Ivey Long’s razzle-dazzle and memorable music by a pair of musical theater masters, it’s a crowd pleaser.

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