According to J.R.R. Tolkien, "The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of the traveler who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gate should be shut and the keys be lost."
Cinderella is one of the most beloved of these great stories we call “fairy tales.” Its familiar narrative abounds with great moral lessons, rich literary reflections, and deep spiritual implications--if you've been ruined by the silly childishness and cloying sweetness of the Disney version, you probably need to take a second, more serious look. The story has been told and retold innumerable times through the ages--in a wide variety of styles, utilizing a vast array of genres. At the University of Southern Mississippi, there is even an academic archive--the Cinderella Project--dedicated to studying every aspect of the old tale. It is indeed, "wide and deep and high and filled with many things."
Besides the early retelling by the Brothers Grimm, one of my favorite versions of the story is the original musical created for television in 1957. In a rare stroke of genius, CBS asked the great Broadway duo, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, to write the very first musical for prime time American television. Rodgers composed the music and Hammerstein wrote the lyrics to this delightfully rich story.
It starred a budding young actress named Julie Andrews, who was only 21 at the time of production, and was currently on Broadway performing the lead role in My Fair Lady. It was seen in color on the East Coast (for those few who actually had color television) and in black and white on the West coast. The West coast performance was seen 3 hours later, using a kinescope taping of the original. The production was met with unprecedented success. It was viewed the largest TV audience up to that time--over 107 million people. It also received rave reviews from the critics. Sadly, at the time videotape had yet to be perfected, thus preventing a quality repeat broadcast.
CBS reproduced and rebroadcast the show in 1965. In this production several enduring changes were made. A song was added for the Prince to sing which was originally written for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific but was cut before its debut on Broadway. And, the names of the stepsisters were changed from Joy and Portia to Prunella and Esmerelda. Though this changed some of the literary symbolism of the original fairy tale, it struck a chord with viewers and it eventually became the standard--even making its way into the wildly popular Walt Disney animated version of the old story.
This next week, the Franklin Classical School music and drama department will perform a full production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s original. In two performances on September 15 and another two on September 17, the student performers will remake this old classic for a whole new generation of Americans. Don’t miss this great opportunity. Performances are at 2:00 and 7:00 PM at the W Theater, 274 Mallory Station Road, near the Cool Springs Galleria in Franklin.