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The History Of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella

The History Of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella Click to enlarge

22 Dec 2016

A broadcasting first, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella broke records and pushed the technological boundaries of the time. Here's the story of its success and how a score first written in the 1950s is still loved today...

The broadcast of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Julie Andrews on 31st March 1957 was, at the time, seen by the largest audience in the history of the planet. 107,000,000 people in the USA (60% of the country’s population at that time) tuned in, with viewers also watching as far as Canada and Cuba, conveying the wide appeal for this beloved tale. Its immense success was truly a testament to its quality as a production and the ambition of the creatives behind it. A Broadway-calibre musical starring Broadway’s brightest talent, broadcast night was like opening night and everyone in America was invited.

A result of their theatrical prominence, Rodgers and Hammerstein were approached to do something that had never been done before: to write an original musical expressly for television. The opportunity to step into this new world spurred the duo’s enthusiasm.

Settling on the fairy tale of Cinderella, the duo were snapped up by CBS, looking to land a "television spectacular" with bright young newcomer Julie Andrews already taking Broadway by storm. With Andrews sealing the pair’s interest, a working script was completed just in time for the start of rehearsals on February 21 1957. It was Julie Andrews’ commitment to My Fair Lady (still managing to do eight shows a week during most of the Cinderella rehearsal process) that kept Cinderella in New York, and her incredible talent set the standard for the company surrounding her.

A tiny studio on 81st street, CBS Colour Studio 72, was chosen as the broadcast location. Packed into the cramped space were 56 performers, 33 musicians, and 80 crew. Also fighting for space were four giant RCA colour cameras, racks loaded with over 100 costumes, over half a dozen set pieces, and a whole host of props (some of them rigged with special effects). Actors were advised to manoeuvre with caution. Every inch counted: even Cinderella’s live mice got too big during rehearsals and had to be replaced by broadcast night!

Treating it just like a Broadway musical, R&H put the cast and TV crew through several full-length run-throughs, giving them chance to see what worked and what didn’t. Three entire performances were filmed and analysed. The third was a strict record of the hoped-for final product, available to the CBS technicians as back-up if anything went wrong during the live broadcast. There were no understudies. "If Julie can’t make the show," Rodgers asserted to TV Guide , "then neither can we."

Finally airing on 31st March 1957, Cinderella broadcast live across the US, Canada, Cuba and beyond, breaking audience records for the time. Though Rodgers and Hammerstein didn't bring it to Broadway themselves, Cinderella made an easy transition to the stage. It was here in the UK that it was performed live for the first time in 1958. However, after its television impact, it was only a matter of time before Cinderella returned to the screen.

In 1965 CBS re-staged Cinderella , with Richard Rodgers as Executive Producer. While the teleplay was revised, the score remained intact. It boasted a cast as remarkable as the original, including Ginger Rogers as the Queen and Broadway starlet Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella.

The story would be taken on again in 1997 with yet another dazzling all-star cast starring Whitney Houston and Whoopi Goldberg and a budget exceeding $12 million!

Like the two TV versions before it, television history was made once again as Cinderella reached over 60 million viewers; a hit with critics and audiences alike. An encore broadcast on Valentine's Night 1998 drew another 15,000,000 viewers and the Disney Home Video version, also released that year, became the best-selling video of a TV movie ever released.

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella endures. All three TV versions have been released on DVD, with their soundtracks available on CD. Stage productions of Cinderella continue to thrive as well, with critically acclaimed productions in New York and London. Trinity hopes to reflect the magic of this production, steeped in success and history, and enchant you with a score that has thrilled audiences all over the world for over half a century.

 
 
 

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