Review: 'Cinderella' sparkles with stage magic
MANILA – Resorts World Manila has vowed to give theater-goers a spectacle when its latest musical “Cinderella” officially opens Thursday at the casino complex’s Newport Performing Arts Theater. And based on Wednesday’s gala night, it certainly delivered on its promise.
Headlined by pop singers Karylle and Christian Bautista, “Cinderella” had moments of pure stage magic that would impress audiences beyond the pre-teen girls in princess costumes who were obviously enchanted by the fairy tale brought to life.
The transformation of Cinderella from a poor country girl bullied by her stepmother and stepsisters into a confident young woman fit to marry her prince was straight out of a magic show. Just like in the current Broadway revival, Cinderella, wearing her mother’s old dress, spins in front of the audience and emerges in a sparkling white ball gown. The costume change happens so fast that the spell-bound audience just burst in applause.
But apart from such moments, director Michael Williams took a different path for the local staging of “Cinderella.” According to reviews, the Broadway revival reworked the Rodgers and Hammerstein original and incorporated snide political references to appeal to a more modern audience. The one at Resorts World, on the other hand, stuck closely to the classic fairy tale we are all familiar with.
Yet while everyone knows the story, the same can’t be said of the music of this production. “Cinderella” is among the less familiar works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, which started as a made-for-TV musical in the 1950s. It doesn’t have popular chestnuts like the romantic “I Have Dreamed” from “The King and I” or the inspirational “Climb Every Mountain” from “The Sound of Music” – the two musicals previously mounted by Resorts World.
The songs are hummable enough – like the waltz-y “Ten Minutes Ago” and the show-stopping “Impossible” – but “Cinderella” is clearly not in the same league – both musically and literarily -- as the other Rodgers and Hammerstein classics like “South Pacific” and “Carousel.”
As such, one really needs some magic to elevate “Cinderella” into something more than just a children’s production. Williams and the creative team succeeded in doing that. Fully utilizing the ample size of the Resorts World theater, South African set designer Andrew Botha created giant set pieces that amazingly glide across the large stage, as if unfolding like paper cutouts. The grand staircase that moves lends the show with a sense of panorama, while Cinderella’s carriage is nothing less than enchanting.
Williams and Botha then used Newport’s gigantic LED wall for some computer animated backgrounds for added depth and movement. The scene of the carriage bringing Cinderella to the steps of the palace was a perfect marriage of creative stagecraft and video technology. It was like watching the well-loved fairy-tale cartoon suddenly come to life onstage.
There is also the tendency among actors to ham it up when doing material for children, particularly those in villain roles. But Williams, a veteran theater actor, wisely directed his cast to tone it down a bit. As the wicked stepmother, Sweet Plantado comes across more as grumpy and demanding but not necessarily evil. One can sense the pressure she feels as a single parent, working to ensure a comfortable future for her daughters. Similarly, Gianna Ocampo and Maronne Cruz, as the stepsisters, are more bratty but otherwise clueless in their actions.
Karylle and Bautista, meanwhile, both have a charismatic stage presence that helped sustain audience interest. Bautista gave Prince Christopher a boyish, carefree charm, ensuring that the Disney prince isn’t just a live Ken doll. Karylle, meanwhile, has a refreshing face that simply radiates onstage. Their pop voices may not have the theatrical power of, say, Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo's as the fairy godmother, but are enough to convey the sweetness required by their characters.
Moreover, Karylle and Bautista, who were last seen in last year’s acclaimed “Rama Hari,” already developed a natural chemistry to make the love-at-first-sight believable.
“Cinderella” may not have the heft of “The King and I” or the timeless tunes of “The Sound of Music,” but those looking for wholesome family entertainment, especially with little girls who dream of becoming Disney princesses in tow, will find Resort World’s latest production captivating.
“Cinderella” runs at Resorts World Manila until December.