March 4 (Bloomberg) -- You can see light beaming from Laura Osnes at the Broadway Theatre, where she’s playing the Cinderella of any girl’s fantasy.
Last seen in a flop called “Bonnie and Clyde,” Osnes has doe-eyed charm, a lovely soprano and whatever it is that separates a star from the chorus without trumpeting the fact.
And in this first-ever Broadway production of “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” she shimmers -- even when just about everything around her is flying off the rails.
Where to begin? Let’s take the “Corner” song.
Written in 1957 as a TV vehicle for Julie Andrews (and later reprised by Leslie Ann Warren and then the singer Brandy), the show and its best-known song are familiar to several generations of children and the parents they’ve become.
Coming early in Act I, “In My Own Little Corner” is the reverie of a forlorn child who finds comfort in the privacy of her room.
At the Broadway, the heroine delivers it from the steps of the cottage she shares with her stepmother and stepsisters. A looming forest surrounds her; cutesy puppet animals peer from the flora as Cinderella sings, “I know of a spot in my house/Where no one can stand in my way/In my own little corner/In my own little chair...”
No corner. No chair. Setting this number outside is just clueless.
Director Mark Brokaw’s inexperience with musicals is ever evident in an over-busy, over-decorated staging of a show whose chief virtue is simplicity.
Set designer Anna Louizos (“In the Heights”) usually achieves a winsome balance between realism and humor. What happened? We see a distracting procession of flat and tacky-looking sets -- forest, cottage, palace -- constantly moving on and off the stage. Even the pumpkin-to-coach trick is a letdown, as the squash disappears and a rather ungainly glittery carriage emerges from the wings.
More mortifying, the show has been campified with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, which is sort of like hiring Matt Stone and Trey Parker to update “Bambi.”
When the Prince’s adviser Sebastian (Peter Bartlett) announces at the ball, “It’s time to play Ridicule! Everyone take sides!” we’re suddenly watching a snarky episode of “Real Housewives of Fairyland.”
Beane adds an inane subplot involving a rabble-rouser who seems to exist just so that the plotting Sebastian can say to the Prince things like, “Your parents had the good fortune to be royalty in a time of plenty. But since their unfortunate demise, I have done my best to run this country. I’ve done my best to raise you in the finest schools.”
Harriet Harris has a gleeful meanness as the step-mother and Ann Harada rocks as the vacant and vicious step-sister, though both actress’s shtick quickly grows tiresome.
Beane has softened the second step-sister, played with sincerity by Marla Mindelle, making her Cinderella’s confidant and accomplice. Even this is jarring.
The score (already, to be generous, second-tier Rodgers and Hammerstein) is padded with four extra songs from their trunk. I guess to justify the intermission.
Osnes isn’t the only enjoyable presence. Victoria Clark is a game Fairy Godmother, leading the show’s second big number, “Impossible.” (Too bad that sublime costumier William Ivey Long has adorned her with hideous purple wings and space-bunny antennae).
Santino Fontana is winning as the boyish but enlightened prince, named Topher. I only wish we didn’t have to first encounter him as Topher slays a rampaging giant forest creature, the Abominable Oak Man. Really, any old dragon would do.
At the Broadway Theatre, Broadway at W. 53rd Street. Information: +1- 212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include John Mariani on wine and Lance Esplund on art.
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