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Center Stage

Classic, feisty and huge


“We do have a pumpkin that turns into a carriage,” says Antoine Smith. “We have a glass slipper and things you’re sure to recognize.”

“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” Civic Center Des Moines Performing Arts. Tuesday - Saturday, July 14-18, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 19, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” Civic Center Des Moines Performing Arts.
Tuesday – Saturday, July 14-18, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 19, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Still, he goes on: “This is nothing like the Disney cartoon.”

Instead, the “Cinderella” coming to the Civic Center has a distinguished Broadway pedigree. Composers Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein were two of the people responsible for what’s often called the “Golden Age” of the musical. Their classics include “South Pacific” in 1949 and, 10 years later, “The Sound of Music.” Yet when they took on the famous fairy tale of the young woman with wicked stepsisters and a fairy godmother, the scrub-maid whose foot fits the glass slipper, they tried their hand at a new medium — television.

First aired in 1957, the show featured an up-and-comer named Julie Andrews. The actress, of course, went on to bigger things, but for her and others, “Cinderella” remained an especially fond memory. The tunes stood up to the best in the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalogue. Still, no one managed to convert the 90-minute TV special to a full-length piece of theater until a pair of contemporaries took over, Robyn Goodman and Douglas Beane.TourCinderella0762r

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“Those two brought the show up to date,” says Smith.

Having worked on edgy stuff like “Avenue Q,,” Goodman and Beane whipped up extra drama. They did more with Smith’s character — an advisor to the throne — and with Cinderella herself. She was no longer just the Prince’s trophy.

“She’s got her own dynamic journey now,” Smith explains.

This new feistiness is reflected in the name she prefers: just Ella, thanks. Better yet, on this the actress is Paige Faure — the same who handled the role on Broadway. Smith calls Faure’s work “stunning,” and he has the same sort of praise for Andy Huntington-Jones, as the Prince.

“Andy was with the original cast, too,” Smith points out. “And he plays the whole range of the part, from laughing to heartbroken.”TourCinderella1004r

The 21st-Century “Cinderella” reached the stage just two years ago.

“It’s a Broadway production, now,” Smith says. “A couple of the dance numbers are huge.”

The costumes, by William Ivy Long, won a Tony, and the New York director, Mark Brokaw, checks in with the tour regularly.

Still, the show retains its Rodgers and Hammerstein magic. The composers left behind a trove of unused music, and one of Smith’s favorite songs was originally written for “South Pacific.” He makes it clear, however, that every tune contributes. “The music creates a continuous up and down, from the boisterous to the sorrowful. It’s endlessly entertaining.”

But then, the whole experience is a dream come true for Smith, who was raised in Sioux City. He proudly calls himself a “product of community theater,” and a Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) graduate. Now, how does he feel to be back in Iowa with a hit show?

Smith answers with the plain talk of a Midwesterner: “Awesome.”

Overheard in the Lobby: On July 17, Des Moines Playhouse begins its 2015-16 season with Monty Python’s “Spamalot.” CV


John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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