By Seth Reines, December 2017 Issue.
Exactly 60 years ago, Broadway composer/lyricist team Rodgers and Hammerstein created their version of Cinderella for live TV. Originally commissioned by CBS as a vehicle for My Fair Lady star Julie Andrews, their Cinderella was seen by 107 million.
The 1965 remake of Cinderella, a new live production starring Lesley Ann Warren, caused little excitement, playing to only 22 million viewers.
Thirty-two years later, Rogers and Hammerstein gave their Cinderella a third try … this time with Brandy as Cinderella, Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, Bernadette Peters as the Stepmother, Whoopi Goldberg as the Queen and Jason Alexander as the King. The ratings tripled with a viewership of over 60 million.
But it still took 16 more years for Cinderella’s golden coach to finally park on Broadway in 2013 with added songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue (including “Now Is the Time,” a rousing call for social change that was cut from South Pacific) and a smart new book by Douglas Carter Beane, author of Xanadu, Sister Act and The Nance.
Lee Wilkins (left) and Josh Rhodes. Courtesy photo.
In Beane’s new version, the Prince Charming’s parents have died and been replaced by a devious prime minister who tricks the naïve prince into signing bills that repress his people. A more politically savvy Cinderella opens the Prince’s eyes to the injustice in his kingdom. And, in brand new subplot, a rebel named Jean-Michel and stepsister Gabrielle fall in love and plot to overthrow the government.
The first national tour of this lavish new Cinderella – a far cry from Rogers and Hammerstein’s original vision – hits ASU Gammage from Dec. 19 to 24.
Boasting William Ivey Long’s Tony-award winning costumes and the exquisite choreography of Josh Rhodes, this version earned “... a wonderful example of how Broadway dancing can be both virtuous and sincere” from Broadway World.
Rhodes, who recently directed and choreographed Guys and Dolls at The Old Globe in San Diego, has also choreographed Company at Lincoln Center, Sondheim: The Birthday Concert on PBS, Broadway Bares and the Broadway premieres of First Date,It Should Have Been You and Bright Star.
Echo caught up with Rhodes and his life and business partner, Lee Wilkins, who will be restaging the balletic choreography for the national tour, and here’s what they had to say.
Echo: How did you get started as a choreographer?
Rhodes: My first great schooling for choreography was being a dancer in multiple Broadway shows, which is priceless schooling for anyone who wants to craft stories with dance in musical theater. I was also an assistant choreographer and a dance captain. I started dipping my toes in the water as the need came for me to finish numbers for a choreographer or add small sections of dance once the choreographer or director trusted me. After a while, you gain confidence and technique and you think perhaps you could do it on your own.
Echo: What can you tell us about your experience creating the Broadway premiere of Cinderella?
Rhodes: Cinderella was a wonderful experience because the director, Mark Browkaw, and the writer, Douglas Carter Beane, let me look through the script and asked where I could enhance the story with dance. They let me experiment for months with a few ideas and many are in the show today. The two of them helped me shape the numbers to make sure they use principals and keep the story moving during the musical numbers. Working on new dance arrangements with a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein score was heaven. It was a choreographer’s dream.
Echo: How did Josh and you meet?
Wilkins: We met on a blind date in Costa Mesa, Calif. I was on the Cats tour that was leaving Costa Mesa and Josh was on the pre-Broadway Jekyll and Hyde tour that was coming into Costa Mesa. We had dinner together, spent a day off and for the next six months (pre-cell phones), we lived a long-distance relationship. We met in August of 1995, and married Nov. 15, 2006.
Echo: Lee, if you were not a performer/choreographer, what would you want to be?
Wilkins: I’ve been several things in my life and career … a drummer, lighting designer, set designer, marketing firm owner and music editor. I love finding new things that challenge me. I think next might be a web designer or film editor.
Rhodes will recreate his imaginative Broadway choreography for the first national tour of Steve Martin’s Bright Star with Wilkins again serving as associate choreographer. Next spring, Rhodes will direct and choreograph Evita at Sarasota’s Asolo Repertory Theatre and stage Chess at the Kennedy Center … all with his best friend, partner and collaborator Wilkins at his side.
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Tickets: $20-$150; 480-965-3434