D Kevin McNeirLifestyle

Billy Porter’s Chops and Swerve Save the Day for Amazon’s ‘Cinderella’

Among all of the fairy tales that I remember from my childhood, the story of Cinderella has always been one of my favorites – probably because my mother loved it just as much, if not more than I.

But it wasn’t the story alone that evoked such pleasure for us but one version in particular – a delightful musical retelling of the classic tale conceived by the talented duo of Rodgers & Hammerstein.

(For those who may not know, they’re the team that struck gold with “The Sound of Music” and helped elevate Julie Andrews to stardom).

Their musical fantasy, “Cinderella,” originally aired on television in 1957 with Julie Andrews in the lead role before its modernization which resonated more with a changing society returned to television in 1965 featuring Lesley Ann Warren.

As the years passed, “Cinderella” in its ’60s form no longer held my attention. But the music and lyrics, which I thought I’d forgotten, remained with me, as I would discover many years later.

In a production by Walt Disney Television, “Cinderella” returned in 1997 – this time with a new script whose themes appealed to a more contemporary audience. Cinderella became a stronger heroine, mirroring the changes in how society viewed women.

The film featured Brandy who led a racially diverse cast – a decision made by the producers in efforts to reflect how society had evolved in the 1990s.

Most critics loved the film’s new music which augmented the Rodgers & Hammerstein score, as well as the costumes, sets and supporting cast, particularly Bernadette Peters in her role as the stepmother.

But reviews remained mixed on the success of Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston who portrayed a much-jazzier fairy godmother.

By the way, Houston had been cast to portray Cinderella when negotiations first began. However, after years of delay, by the time production finally began, Houston felt she had aged out of the role and passed it on to her protégé, Brandy.

Jukebox Musical of Cinderella Returns for 2021 

But have no fear, fairy tale fans.

You can’t put stories like Cinderella on the shelf but for so long before it returns, reshaped and updated to speak to a new generation. At least that’s what it appears served as the motivation for the just-released version of the classic story, now available on Amazon Prime Video. Described as a “jukebox musical,” it features several original songs along with chart-topping hits from today’s rock and pop genres.

The latest “Cinderella,” while still based on the Perrault fairy tale, features a markedly-different theme and storyline. Cinderella no longer dreams of meeting her true love and being whisked away from a life of servitude. Instead, she longs to become a businessowner, making her fortune as a dress designer.

Still, Ella, as she’s called by her stepmother and stepsisters, must overcome a world in which women are rebuked for having such dreams. Men still rule the world – or so they believe.

As for her stepmother, she wants to find a suitable match for Ella and get her out of her house.

Sounds a bit far-fetched for this tale that has survived for hundreds of years.  But, I guess it makes sense given how far women have come in the 21st century.

Written and produced by Kay Cannon, the film stars singer Camila Cabello as the title character in her acting debut. Cabello, who has proven herself as a great singer, may want to take a few more acting lessons. She was adequate but not particularly exciting, except in the scenes in which she was required to dance.

The cast also includes Idina Menzel, the star from the Broadway hit musical, “Wicked,” who, like Cabello, has far greater talent as a vocalist than an actress. Other members of the cast include Minnie Driver, Nicolas Galitzine and Pierce Brosnan – that’s right James Bond, himself.

And while he’s only on screen for one scene, the enigmatic Billy Porter, in all of his “diva-like glory,” saves the day and this movie in his role as . . . you got it – the Fairy Godmother – also known as “Fairy G.”

Porter can act as he’s proven time and time again. And he has an amazing voice. But when you add his ability to deliver lines which both creatively and tastefully blur the distinctions between “godfather” and “godmother,” you can’t help but love him and the character he so effortlessly portrays.

Finally, like the cherry on top of a mouth-watering hot fudge sundae, when he breaks out in a version of the Earth, Wind and Fire classic, “Shining Star,” later joined by Cabello, it’s on and poppin.’ It’s without a doubt, one of the best scenes in the entire film.

Songs immortalized by Janet Jackson and Madonna also appear in the movie, mixed with other tunes that make them even more captivating. Yes, I’m still snapping my fingers!

As for the choreography and costumes, they’re so outstanding that in some respects, they serve as the glue that keeps the movie together. Just when there’s a lull in the action and the acting may be a bit disappointing, the pace picks up – from the villagers cutting a rug on the town square to a cadre of stylishly-dressed potential brides dancing to the Salt-N-Pepa/En Vogue classic, “Whatta Man” in a serenade to the prince at the ball.

I liked this new version of Cinderella.

But I had to watch it a few times to both catch and appreciate the nuances while patiently overlooking the scenes in which the action slowed so much that I had time to throw some popcorn in the microwave.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents, the native Detroiter engineered a transformation of The Miami Times resulting in its being named the NNPA’s “Publication of the Year” in 2011 – just one of several dozen industry-related awards he’s earned in his career. He currently serves as senior editor for The Washington Informer. There, in the heart of the U.S. Capitol, he displays a keen insight for developing front-page news as it unfolds within the greater Washington area, capturing the crucial facts and facets of today’s intriguing, political arena. He has degrees from The University of Michigan, Emory University and Princeton Theological Seminary. In 2020, he received First Place for Weekly Newspaper, Commentary & Criticism, Society of Professional Journalists, Washington, D.C. Pro Chapter. Learn more about him at www.dkevinmcneir.com, Facebook – Kevin McNeir, Twitter - @mcneirdk, Linkedin – D. Kevin McNeir or email: mcneirdk@washingtoninformer.com.

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