Sunday, February 18, 2001

This is not your grandma's 'Cinderella'

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Gabriel Barre loves fairy tales and knows a lot about them. As the director of the touring musical Cinderella, opening Tuesday at the Aronoff Center, what he didn't already know he found out.

  • What: Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella.
  • When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, through March 4.
  • Where: Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series, Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center, downtown.
  • Tickets: $35-$56. 241-7469.
        He will tell you that the story of Cinderella did not originate with the Brothers Grimm. Its roots go back more than 1,000 years ago to China, hence the attention to the tiny foot, which was a sign of a Chinese woman's beauty. And through the centuries, there have been hundreds of variations on the Cinderella theme.

        Mr. Barre is a comer on the New York musical scene. Last season, he was responsible for one of the two versions of The Wild Party that played New York. Next season he'll be represented on Broadway with Summer of '42 (which played in Dayton earlier this season.)

        Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella — the composers' names are part of the title to distinguish it from all other Cinderellas — has been around since 1957, when it began life as a TV musical special starring Julie Andrews as the girl with one glass slipper. In later TV incarnations it starred Lesley Ann Warren and Brandy.

        In directing the musical's first stage version, Mr. Barre has made it his own, as well as Rodgers & Hammerstein's.

        “If something is known,” Mr. Barre says, “you have to have a reason to relook at it. I wanted to do something, fresh, fun and bold with the material.”

Stepmom in drag

        He started his fresh, fun and bold approach with the casting. While Cinderella and her Prince, Deborah Gibson and Paolo Montalban, are traditionally pleasing, don't look for a standard-issue benign fairy godmother.

        Mr. Barre thought it would be fun to “undercut the audiences' expectations,” so it's Eartha Kitt, veteran of Broadway, cabaret and TV's Batman, who will wield the magic wand.

        “I thought they wanted me for the wicked stepmother,” the 74-year-old star says. She's delighted to be giving a new spin to the fairy godmother in the wake of her acclaimed turn on Broadway in the other The Wild Party.

        The wicked stepmother will be played by the fabulous Everett Quinton, who spent 20 years (until 1996) earning critical raves for his drag roles at New York's famed Ridiculous Theatre Company.

        He thought Mr. Barre was interested in him for a smaller supporting role. He's charmed to be playing the stepmama. “This role is heaven for me. When I left Ridiculous, I thought I'd never act in a drag role again.”

Two equal halves

        Mr. Barre believes his inclination to “turn something a little on its ear to align with a contemporary approach,” is a natural match with fairy tales. Take something everyone thinks they know, and then take them by surprise. “You need to throw a familiar work through the prism of our time and give it revelence.”

        Combine with that Mr. Barre's belief in “the necessity of fairy tales for kids, for growth. Children get confused about their parents' roles, there can be a duality — sometimes they perceive their parents as good, and other times bad.”

        To Mr. Barre's mind, the good godmother and wicked stepmother are two halves of the same person, and with Ms. Kitt and Mr. Quinton, he's “playing with that notion.

        “If Eartha was going to play the good half of the parent figure, I needed someone who could balance the oddity of that choice.”

        The obvious choice was Mr. Quinton, who had a lot of experience approaching less-than-endearing characters with “honesty and integrity.

        “I wasn't looking to cast a man,” Mr. Barre continues. “Everett was the most terrifying and mean, while still playing the role with great integrity. I wanted the audience to feel what oppression is like from Cinderella's point of view. It helps them feel for her.”

        Directors intent on bringing fresh viewpoints to family work can make shows “hugely profitable,” Mr. Barre points out. He looks no further than Julie (The Lion King) Taymor as an example.

Coming attractions

        Mr. Barre has no shortage of upcoming projects that are putting a new face on familiar material.

        Summer of '42 is firmly on its way to a happy ending on Broadway. After spending this summer in San Francisco and autumn in Boston it's set to open on Broadway in mid-December.

        He's also involved in a new rock musical based on the film Mask. Penciled in for 2002 is Temple, the true story of an autistic woman who redesigned slaughterhouses across the nation. The script is being developed at Seattle Rep.

Larry Nager's Grammy picks
Take our Grammys quiz
Answers to the Grammys quiz
- This is not your grandma's 'Cinderella'
ER doctor teaches real survival skills
TV movie dramatizes Bengal's tough childhood
KIESEWETTER: Real jackasses are MTV pro grammers
DEMALINE: Director checks into 'Grand Hotel'
DAUGHERTY: 'Every day is a victory' for lawyer
GELFAND: CSO has warm memories of Europe
KENDRICK: New Wireless technology could ease caregivers' fears
Get to It