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“So many people got engaged after seeing this show,” Douglas Carter Beane bellows over gusts of wind. I’ve caught the mastermind behind The National Theatre’s Cinderella out for a walk in the Cotswolds.
“People were dropping on one knee all over the place,” he continues. Beane’s new version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic is, first and foremost, “one big romantic show.”
Fittingly, Beane’s favorite addition to this new production is a reimagined role for the prince. No longer is he the spoiled child of two monarchs, but an orphan trying to come into himself. No less in needing of saving than Cinderella, this prince is a good-hearted, decent, caring, self-doubting guy who needs a friend. As Beane puts it, he is “the guy I would like my daughter to fall in love with. The guy I want every girl and guy I know to fall in love with.”
To spruce up the second act, Beane pulled from a number of other Rodgers and Hammerstein sources. In addition to orphaning the prince, he looked to the original French text of the fairytale to have the fairy godmother appear in an earlier scene as a beggar woman. He also added a subversive flair to the musical, reimagining Sebastian as an impish reincarnation of Dick Cheney.
Despite the tweaks, Beane’s show is still very much in the vein of Rodgers and Hammerstein. “People keep asking who put all this liberalism in here,” he notes, but the original text of Cinderella was written by a social satirist and Rogers and Hammerstein always wanted the show to be “for the common man.” Beane points to “spectacular job” of his director, Mark Brokaw, and his use of traditional theater tricks to ensure the production lived up to “our obligation to share this show with a new generation.”
At least one generation too young for the original broadcast of the show, which aired on CBS in 1957 and starred Julie Andrews, Beane instead experienced the 1965 version featuring Lesley Ann Warren. Growing up in Pennsylvania, he remembers a time when musicals were entertainment for working families, rather than just the rich. When he was a kid, every family had a little collection of Broadway cast recordings next to their record player — even Middle America got to enjoy the magic of musicals. It’s that inclusive spirit that Beane has retained in this show.
“Kindness trumps cruelty and sarcasm,” he says. “That’s something we wanted to share with this Kardashian world.”
Cinderella runs to November 29 at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Tickets are $37 to $228. Call 202-628-6161 or visit thenationaldc.org.
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