Sydney Lyric, October 27


A giant spatula would have been required to lay treacle on this thickly. I mean Cinderella’s story was never going to be mistaken for something penned by Hunter S Thompson, but it did have its light and its shade, and her glass slipper – which always seemed a peculiarly dodgy form of footwear – was never mired in this much mush until Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein got their trowels out for a 1957 made-for-television musical starring Julie Andrews.

Bianca Bruce and ensemble. Top: Ainsley Melham and company. Photos: Jeff Busby.

The brilliance they had so recently brought to South Pacific and The King and I was all but invisible, although the show (which you can see at, was of some interest, because along with the treacle came a side order of satire. Yes, their Cinderella actually sent itself up, in part, which was intermittently amusing.

So when it finally came to Broadway in 2013, a mere 56 years later, the creator of the new book, Douglas Carter Beane, could have gone two ways: he could have emphasised the satirical comedy or the treacle. Alas, he set to work with the spatula.

This Opera Australia/John Frost production recreates Mark Brokaw’s Broadway staging, a highlight of which is William Ivey Long’s striking costume designs. It’s hard to imagine much better performances, too. Shubshri Kandiah uses her vivacity and warm, rounded voice to kindle what sympathy we can muster for a Cinderella who has absolutely no flaws. What sort of character is that to put on a stage? The only flawless humans are the ones yet to be born. A flawless dog is a more credible concept, although the closest one I’ve known still had a tendency towards wilfulness.

Shubshri Kandiah takes a cab. Photos: Jff Busby.

Ainsley Melham also shines as the prince, a comparable paragon of improbable virtue. The wicked stepmother has become Madame, a role carried off with amusing aplomb by Tina Bursill, and Nicholas Hammond brings all his experience to Sebastian, the chancellor. Silvie Paladino sings her socks off as Marie, the Fairy Godmother, and Josh Gardiner hams up one of Beane’s new creations, a pinko idealist called Jean-Michel.

Beane’s biggest change is that the previously wicked stepsisters have become one semi-wicked one (Charlotte, played by Bianca Bruce, who delights in the show’s best song, Stepsister’s Lament), and Gabrielle (Matilda Moran), who all too swiftly sees the error of her ways, and becomes Cinderella’s bestie.

Kandiah and Melham. Photos: Jeff Busby.

As you will have gathered from this glut of exasperatingly nice people, conflict in the story is about as tense as two kittens wrestling. Curiously, given that Cinderella’s name has been shortened to Ella, and Prince Christopher’s to Topher (yes, really), the story has been elongated and then stretched some more, until it is so thin that it would disappear completely if everyone stood sideways on the stage.

But the show does have its charms. Aside from the performances and costumes, two puppets, a fox and a racoon, do their best to steal the glory, and the shoe-fitting scene is superbly written and staged. There are also some theatrical coups, best kept secret, that will have your eyebrows shooting up to your hairline.

The set (Anna Louizos) is a quaint throwback to the sets of nearly a century ago – as is some of Rodgers’ music, notably the awful Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?, which would have sounded bizarrely antiquated even to 1957 ears.

Little girls in Cinderella dresses seemed to lap it up, while older heads might wonder why you’d do this rather than one of Richard and Oscar’s masterworks.

Until November 30.