The shoe fits. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote "Cinderella" for television, but the theatrical touring version now at the Mechanic Theatre suits this 1957 musical as perfectly as a dainty foot gliding into a custom-made glass slipper.
The production - adapted for the stage by Tom Briggs and directed by Gabriel Barre - isn't just a charming diversion for the kids at holiday time, however. It's also got a dash of sass and sophistication, as well as a new theme about the Fairy Godmother's relationship to Cinderella, which contributes an added level of poignancy.
The Fairy Godmother is played by Eartha Kitt, who, from her beaded evening gown to her trademark gravelly singing style, is a one-woman embodiment of sass and sophistication. "Been there, done that," she quips about her lack of wand and other paraphernalia.
Kitt opens the production with a brief prologue, during which a large white dove rests on her shoulder. The dove watches over Deborah Gibson's Cinderella throughout most of the show, clearly representing the Godmother. In turn, as several of her remarks suggest, the Godmother represents the spirit of Cinderella's dead mother.
As such, Kitt's character is a strong maternal influence encouraging Cinderella to mature and, as the Godmother puts it, take responsibility for her own destiny. Only after Cinderella shows a little gumption does the Fairy Godmother begin to work her magic.
The show has its own brand of magic. The mice who are Cinderella's friends are portrayed by rod puppets manipulated by black-clad actors. When the mice are transformed into white horses pulling the pumpkin-turned-carriage, the puppeteers appear in white bodysuits, with tails and manes. Also used for the dove and Cinderella's cat, the rod puppets are a relatively simple effect whose widespread commercial acceptance owes a debt to Julie Taymor's "The Lion King." Cute without being cloying, the mice earn hearty laughter and applause when they perch on each other's shoulders to close a door.
Like the 1997 telecast of the musical (from whose screenplay Briggs adapted his script), the current production combines colorblind casting with a hip sensibility that is especially apparent in the portrayals of Cinderella's mean stepmother and stepsisters, the inaptly named Grace and Joy. The stepmother is played by cross-dressing Everett Quinton, who remains so completely in character that most youngsters will probably never realize his true gender.
NaTasha Yvette Williams' clumsy, rotund Grace and Alexandra Kolb's skinny, awkward Joy are more like sparring partners than sisters - "You wanna piece of me?" Grace bellows at Joy - until Cinderella's success at the ball unites them in misery, comically expressed in the song "Stepsisters' Lament."
The cast has one holdover from the 1997 TV show; handsome, mellow-voiced Paolo Montalban is everything a girl could want in a Prince Charming. As Cinderella, former teen idol Gibson is appropriately sweet, but her pop singing voice has a thin, sibilant quality.
The production's hipness is also reflected in its multicultural design - from the Art Nouveau architecture of the stepmother's house to the Arabian-inspired garb of the wedding guests to the fanciful wigs worn by Cinderella's stepfamily. Even the jaunty, percussive orchestrations and arrangements contribute to the kicky, updated air.
Although "Cinderella" is less familiar than most of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musicals, it has one of their most enchanting scores, including the lilting "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" and the catchy "Impossible." Like the 1997 broadcast, the production interpolates two numbers from other Rodgers and Hammerstein works. "The Sweetest Sounds" enhances the opening scene when the Prince literally bumps into Cinderella in the street, but "There's Music in You," sung by the Fairy Godmother at the end of the show, isn't a strong enough number to wrap up the festivities (a shortcoming that might be mitigated by more focused staging).
This is a mere quibble, however. In just about every other respect, "Cinderella" is, to borrow another song title, "A Lovely Night."
Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, 25 Hopkins Plaza
When: 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday, 6:30 p.m. Sunday, matinees at 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday