Despite the formidable star power of no less than Julie Andrews, this original version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s made-for-TV musical Cinderella has been astonishingly neglected, overshadowed by the 1965 version starring Lesley Ann Warren.
This oversight was largely due to technology; the 1957 version, broadcast live, was preserved only as a black-and-white kinescope (i.e., a film recording made directly from a television screen, intended for studio use rather than viewing purposes; ironically, the broadcast was in color, but the kinescope was made from a black-and-white television).
Now at last the kinescope has been remastered for home video, and Andrews’ first screen performance is finally available for her fans to enjoy. Already a stage star in the Cinderella role of My Fair Lady’s Eliza Dolittle, Julie Andrews as Cinderella is a no-brainer, and the 1957 version is worth seeing for her performance and singing alone. At the same time, it’s fair to note that the 22-year-old star lacks the wide-eyed ingenue quality the 19-year-old Warren brought to her debut role in the 1965 version.
The 1957 version opens on a strong note with a rousing rendition of “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” and benefits from charming material involving the Prince’s royal family cut from later versions. But Edith Adams’s baton-twirling fairy-godmother-as-cheerleader dates poorly, and moving the glass-slipper scene from Cinderella’s house to the palace (almost making Cinderella a sort of royals stalker) is a bad idea. On the other hand, I like the way the denouement of this version softens Cinderella’s stepfamily and their ultimate fate.
There may be no dethroning the Disney cartoon as the definitive musical retelling of the story of Cinderella in the popular imagination; but for my money Rodgers & Hammerstein’s made-for-TV musical is a better take on the timeless fairy tale set in stone by Charles Perrault, and a better introduction to the story for children.
Coming in the wake of a string of early classics — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi — Disney’s Cinderella represents, alas, the early stages of Disney-itis.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.