The glass-slipper story opening this week at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts has relatively little in common with the Disney cartoon. Sure, a pumpkin turns into a carriage and the chambermaid becomes a princess until midnight. But this Ella is no damsel in distress. Although downtrodden, she's a spirited young woman determined to make the best of a bad situation.
Ella and all the characters are "more developed and more real" in this production, according to performer Tatyana Lubov.
"They've been changed in a very positive way," says Lubov, who will be playing Ella for a second year on a nationwide tour that begins in Anchorage.
The show that Anchorage Concert Association is presenting is based on the 1957 live television broadcast of "Cinderella," with music by Rodgers and Hammerstein and Julie Andrews in the title role. More than 100 million people — about 60 percent of the U.S. population — tuned in that night. Entire families watched, enthralled.
This rags-to-riches story has deep emotional resonance for all ages. In his book "The Uses of Enchantment," psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim notes that "nothing can be as enriching and satisfying to child and adult alike as the folk fairy tale."
Classic fairy tales, he says, "speak simultaneously to all levels of the human personality … the uneducated mind of the child as well as that of the sophisticated adult."
For the Broadway musical, the 75-minute TV version was updated with a new book by Douglas Beane and two "new" songs. Or, rather, two old songs, both by Rodgers and Hammerstein: a number cut from "The Sound of Music" plus a tune from a lesser-known musical called "Me and Juliet."
The basic tale is the same, even though the telling is different. Ella is powerless and penniless, an orphan treated as a servant. Yet her character is grateful for a place to live, Lubov says, and hasn't given in to despair.
One of her songs, "In My Own Little Corner," shows how Ella's imagination helps her cope:
I'm as mild and as meek as a mouse; when I hear a command, I obey.
But I know of a spot in my house, where no one can stand in my way.
In my own little corner, in my own little chair, I can be whatever I want to be.
On the winds of my fancy I can fly anywhere, and the world will open its arms to me.
And about the love interest: The role of Prince Topher is "a lot juicier" than the Disney version, according to Lubov: "His character arc is to figure out who he is. It's good to see the princely character actually have a character."
The musical includes some modern-day aspects, including an emphasis on the politics of the kingdom. For example, the prince has spent years at boarding school and doesn't know that the poor are suffering and the rich are getting richer. The country's interests are being looked after — or, rather, exploited — by politicians.
When the sheltered prince meets Cinderella he gets to hear another side to the story. (Hint: Lazy peasants aren't leaving their lands. They're being evicted.) This Cinderella is an agent of change, rather than just another pretty face.
"We need that kind of female empowerment in the entertainment industry," Lubov says. "Kids can really see these characters as role models, instead of a fairy-tale fantasy."
Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Cinderella'
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24 to 29 (on Oct. 25 there will be special "Family Night" activities that begin at 6 p.m. in the theater lobby)
Where: Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Note: The show is recommended for ages 6 and older.
Tickets: $46.25 to $91.25, available at CenterTix.net. (907-263-2787)