For those of us “of a certain age,” November 2, 1997’s episode of ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney decades ago was mind boggling.
That Sunday evening, a new production of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was enjoyed by over 60 million television viewers. Television audiences had not seen a new production of the classic musical in over 30 years.
If you’ve not seen it, and no disrespect to Leslie Ann Warren, but that earlier, 1965 version of Cinderella was snow white. And the 1950 Disney animated classic didn’t have any black or brown folks in it, either. Brandy’s version has been out of print, and off of streaming platforms, for years.
Finally, the definitive, multicultural version of Cinderella is coming to Disney Plus Friday, February 12.
Can you guess what time it’s showing up? “At the stroke of minute,” according to a teaser sent to media.
In this production, R & B star Brandy convincing plays the title role, and in doing so became Disney’s first African American princess. Brandy made dreams possible for a whole new group of black girls who’d not seen themselves in the fairy tales of our childhoods. Those girls would grow into women who would help elect President Barack Obama and, later, Joe Biden & Kamala Harris.
That’s not a stretch. My eldest daughter recently told me that she’s never forgotten that November, 1997 night, when she was just 10 years old. It was a lovely night, indeed.
Brandy’s never forgotten it, either.
“I’m so excited that Cinderella has a home now at Disney Plus,” Brandy told ABC, “and we can celebrate, and share, and inspire a whole new generation.”
Superstar Whitney Houston not only produced Cinderella, but played The Fairy Godmother in a performance that, to my mind, stands as her best acting performance. The sass she brings to the role — “Well turn around, Cinderella! Don’t make me do all of the work!” — was hysterical.
As stunning as the casting of those two roles was, others were even more shocking. Unlike The Wiz a generation before, which reimagined The Wizard Of Oz with an all-black cast, this Cinderella’s colorblind casting featured Whoopi Goldberg as The Queen, Victor Garber as The King, and Paulo Montalban as The Prince who’d be smitten by Cinderella at first glance. Broadway legend Bernadette Peters almost stole the show as Cinderella’s wicked Step-Mother (“Beauty has no pain, girls!”), and her two daughters almost assuredly had two very different looking fathers. Seinfield’s Jason Alexander was along for the ride, and a little comic relief.
Of the film’s brilliant Rodgers and Hammerstein score, I promise you’ll be singing “In My Own Little Corner,” “Ten Minutes Ago,” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” for days. The production added a couple of songs to the original score, ‘cause after all, Houston had to sing something by herself! Her “There’s Music In You” doesn’t disappoint. And all of the movie’s sets are magnificent.
But the production’s real highlight is the chemistry between Brandy and Montalban. When Cinderella descends that ballroom staircase, the music stops, and The Prince freezes in his tracks at the sight of her, you’ll feel it, too. And that dance…
Cinderella earned seven Emmy nominations in 1998, winning for art direction for a variety or music program.
“I am absolutely thrilled that our Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella will finally be available on Disney Plus,” producer Debra Martin Chase told Variety. “As the service got up and running, I became inundated on my social media by inquiries from fans asking why the movie was not included in its programming. It is so rewarding that…our Cinderella is still relevant and beloved.”
Shockingly, the soundtrack album to this masterpiece never materialized. Maybe if the musical proves popular on Apple Plus, I won’t have to record the songs as voice memos on my iPhone and transfer them to my Apple Music library.
Bravo and thanks to Disney for unearthing this Cinderella, just in time for Valentine’s Day!
Look for part two of this series soon, featuring an EXCLUSIVE interview with one of Cinderella’s principal cast!