Comfort Entertainment: Why 1997s ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ is the best Cinderella

Screenshot of Paolo Montalban as Prince Cristopher and Brandy Norwood as Cinderella in ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’. Copyright goes to BrownHouse Productions, Storyline Entertainment, and Walt Disney Television.

Hey! Hallie here!

The 1997 version of ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ just had its 25th anniversary and there’s no other production of ‘Cinderella’ I’d rather celebrate. This is absolutely my favorite ‘Cinderella’ adaptation of all time, and that includes the animated Disney film. The casting is amazing, not just because it’s so diverse but simply because everyone was perfectly cast in their roles. The music, as it always is in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals, is gorgeous and the cast does more than justice to each song. The sets are beautiful in both grandness and color. And the costumes, primarily the iconic ballgown, are hard to look away from. There’s so much to love about this movie, but I’m going to dive specifically into the characters and why they stand out to me more in this ‘Cinderella’ than in any other. Let’s get to the gushing!

Cinderella:

Ok, first off, Brandy was the perfect casting choice for Cinderella. She was the first ever woman of color to take over the role and she forever changed the way I, and so many other people saw the character. She brings a classic sweetness to Cinderella that makes you instantly sympathize with her. But just as prominently, she brings a quiet strength to the character. Both can be easily seen when she first meets the Prince. Though she’s instantly taken with him (And who wouldn’t fall instantly in love with Paolo Montalban), she’s also cautious of him and even criticizes him for his overconfidence. When she meets up with him again at the ball, her instant kindness endears the Prince, King, and Queen to her. But in her conversation with the Prince she cuts off his wishing by telling him that too many people wish for things to change instead of taking the initiative to change them. It’s a lesson she learns from her Fairy Godmother first, but it’s still really cool to see her adopt it with such confidence. There’s even a scene where she kneels on the floor to talk to her deceased father in which she reveals that she promised him she’d stay with her Stepmother and stepsisters, and despite the way they’ve treated her, she’s kept her promise. But she further says that she can no longer keep to that promise because she deserves to be loved. I absolutely adore that we get to see a scene where Cinderella openly acknowledges she deserves happiness despite everything. All of that and I didn’t even mention Brandy’s amazing voice. Her version of “In My Own Little Corner” will forever be the most iconic version of the song. There’s so much to admire about Brandy’s Cinderella and, in my eyes, it makes her the best version of the character.

Prince Cristopher:

Ok, putting aside that Paolo Montalban is definitely the dreamiest guy to play the Prince in any ‘Cinderella’, we get a lot more of a character here than we do in other adaptations of this tale. First though, I have to acknowledge that we have yet another person of color stepping into a role that was predominantly white before he was cast. Another reason why this movie made, and continues to make, such a huge impact. Our first time seeing Prince Cristopher isn’t in a palace, but is instead in the general marketplace. He’s wearing commoner clothes and trying to blend in. This is also the first time he meets Cinderella and manages to make a bit of a fool of himself in the process. This whole scene sets up a far different character than we expect for the Prince. Instead of a regular royal, the Prince is down to earth and doesn’t always appreciate his royalty. He goes so far as to tell Cinderella that royals don’t care about who they might be inconveniencing. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to take up his responsibilities as prince, it’s just that he feels there’s more to life than what’s inside the palace. This ties in perfectly to the idea that the Prince wants to marry for love rather than by choosing another royal who his parents could easily set him up with. Of course, he still doesn’t recognize Cinderella at the ball despite having seen her before (Although, his version of “Ten Minutes Ago” completely took my breath away). But he avoids coming off as oblivious by putting the pieces together the minute he sees her in her peasant outfit again. That and the way he looks at her through the entire movie makes it feel like he’s truly in love.

The Side Characters:

I’m starting off this section with Whitney Houston because I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to write a post about this movie without mentioning her as soon as humanly possible. She’s an amazing Fairy Godmother. She’s comforting, funny, and she made “Impossible” my favorite Cinderella song ever sung. And speaking of complete perfection, the King and Queen in this movie genuinely make me light up every time they walk on screen. Whoopi Goldberg plays a comical Queen who’s far too invested in her son’s love life, and Victor Garber plays a deliciously sarcastic King who plays mediator between his wife and son. The two have several moments of fun banter, and best of all, they always treat each other with the utmost care and love. You never really wonder why these two are together. Bernadette Peters holds a special place in every theatre lover’s heart and she kills it here. She strikes the perfect balance between over-the-top and cold. Amongst it all, though, are strange glimpses of humanity. She gets swept up by Cinderella’s tales and she bemoans her failed attempts at love. You almost get the feeling that her version of the Stepmother could be a better person in the future. And the same goes for Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle Reid’s Calliope and Minerva, who are certainly bumbling, but always feel more funny than malicious. Last, but certainly not least, is Jason Alexander’s Lionel. Lionel is hilarious. With quips like “Who dances in glass slippers?” and “You know I honestly wish there was something between us. A continent,” it’s hard not to like him. And the running joke of Lionel injuring himself right in from of the indifferent King and Queen never stops being amusing. This entire cast did such a good job.

I adore this version of ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella’. The story and dialogue fit perfectly with the songs while still giving us a fresh look at all of the characters. The chemistry between Brandy and Paolo makes me want to cry every time I watch “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” The entire ensemble cast fits together so well that you can’t picture anyone else playing any of the characters. I’m so glad people are still just as enamored with this movie 25 years later as they were when the film came out. It deserves every bit of praise it’s received and more.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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