AP Drama Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- What's this happening in Cinderella's magical kingdom? Is that a challenge to absolute monarchy we hear amid the romance and dancing? My goodness, it is: There's a demand for democracy. Children, there's even a call for economic justice.
What kind of fairy tale is this?
In the hands of playwright Douglas Carter Beane, a quite fine one actually.
Beane, who wrote the books for "Xanadu," ''Lysistrata Jones," and "The Little Dog Laughed," has had to be limber on this one: Keeping the elements of the classic story -- those pumpkins and glass slippers need to be there -- while making it relevant and not-too-twee for adults, too.
Beane has succeeded, proving he may be Cinderella's real fairy godmother. His script crackles with sweetness and freshness, combining a little "Monty Python's Spamalot" with some "Les Miserables."
"Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella," which opened Sunday at the Broadway Theatre, mixes songs from the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II back catalog along with tunes they wrote for the original 1957 TV version of the story starring Julie Andrews.
The second half action sags a little as the creators try to shoehorn in as many songs as possible, but there's no denying this charming, witty adaptation that uses puppetry, Josh Rhodes' athletic choreography, lush William Ivey Long costumes that magically appear even when you're looking hard, and dreamy music put together by David Chase and Andy Einhorn.
Director Mark Brokaw gets high marks for juggling a lot of dancing, special effects, heavy scenery and top-notch singing, all in service of a quirky, yet heart filled take on the classic story.
They're helped by a first-rate cast, led by Laura Osnes, who one suspects was born to play a princess. She's so naturally earnest and sweet than she barely has to act. Her last role on Broadway was as the murdering Bonnie Parker in the short-lived "Bonnie & Clyde," so she deserves a "happily ever after" in a pair of Stuart Weitzman-designed sparkly pumps.
Victoria Clark as her fairy godmother is lovely and warm as always, even when swinging from rigging. Santino Fontana as the Prince seems to channel Steve Carell's self-conscious goofiness, and Harriet Harris as Cinderella's stepmother grasps avaricious very well indeed ("We are teetering precariously between upper-middle class and lower-upper class," she complains to one daughter.)
Peter Bartlett as the prince's officious mentor is splendid, and Ann Harada as one of the stepsisters has a fun time leading the prince's castoffs in a rousing "The Stepsister's Lament." ("Why can't a fellow ever once prefer/A usual girl like me?")
Other sumptuous songs include "In My Own Little Corner," ''Impossible/It's Possible," ''Ten Minutes Ago" and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" The orchestra is massive, matched by a huge cast.
Beane has taken so many liberties with the classic story that you may not always know where the story is going, a big feat for such a classic tale. In this "Cinderella," the lead character is named Ella, kindness beats out ridicule, constitutional monarchy breaks out, and one of the evil stepsisters turns out not to be evil at all.
All the while, there are some classic Beane lines geared to the parents in the audience. "Why is there a pumpkin on the table?" the evil stepmother comments in one aside. "It makes no design sense."
For the kids, there is pure magic. Cinderella's gowns appear with the best Broadway sorcery, a fox and a raccoon become footmen, the horse-drawn carriage appears as if we were in a Vegas magic show and a giant tree monster is slayed.
One word of warning: Bring some extra cash. Tiaras in the gift shop were a hot seller at intermission. Some fairy tales, especially the ones on Broadway, get expensive.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.