The publicity poop on Ever After says Drew Barrymore is not your grandmother’s Cinderella. So true. Beautiful but tomboyish, tough-minded and independent, she is esthetically pleasing (she can quote Thomas More’s Utopia ) yet formidably athletic. (Fighting off the villain to defend her honor, she’s as handy with a sword as Zorro.) No, she is not your typical cartoon cutout from the drawing boards at Disney. She doesn’t hypnotize Prince Charming. She bangs him in the head with an apple. And he doesn’t exactly rescue her from fairy-tale doom. She rescues him . Set upon by gypsies in the forest, she throws him over her pretty shoulder and saves his royal ass. Eschewing conventions, director Andy Tennant has, with the help of the spunky Ms. Barrymore, put a timely spin on an old fable, creating a revisionist Cinderella for kids of all ages with a contemporary sense of values, logic and adventure. It’s a sumptuous, hearty romantic comedy that leaves nary a heartstring untwanged.
The Brothers Grimm, it seems, got the story all wrong and it’s up to the Grande Dame of France (played by the imperial Jeanne Moreau) to set the record of her great-grandmother straight. The tale, as she remembers it, is not the saga of a passive ragamuffin waiting for a strong, handsome prince. The real Cinderella, saddened by the death of her adored father (Jeroen Krabbé), was no abandoned orphan, but chose to live with her wicked stepmother (as teeth-gnashingly cruel a gorgon as Anjelica Huston can create) and two spoiled, selfish stepsisters who demanded four-minute eggs and forced her to do the housework. The way Ms. Huston plays her, matching the Barrymore legacy with the skill of the Huston dynasty, the Baroness Rodmilla is an upwardly mobile social climber with an agenda of her own (“Nothing’s final until you’re dead-even then, I’m sure God negotiates”).
While Cinderella tends the beehives and hoes the leeks, one jealous stepsister schemes to win Prince Henry, a callow youth brawny of biceps but soft in the noodle, while the overweight stepsister heads for the ball just to sample the pastry buffet. There is a glass slipper, left over from Cinderella’s squandered inheritance, but no mice sewing ball gowns, no pumpkin at midnight, and the fairy godmother turns out to be Leonardo da Vinci, clutching a copy of the Mona Lisa under his arm.
By the time all of the wrinkles are ironed out, the prince has fallen for Cinderella’s passion, conviction and social consciousness, and the whimsical elements are explored in a wholly nonwhimsical way. With apple orchards at dawn, monasteries in the mist and Gregorian chants by Benedictine monks, a rich tapestry of the Dordogne region of France provides a lush, romantic fairy-tale background suitable for framing, while the pickle-faced Ms. Huston gets one last laugh. On the verge of landing in the gallows, she is asked by the King and Queen of France if there is anyone present to speak up in her defense. Ms. Huston screws up her arrogance even in the face of defeat and delivers one of the film’s best lines: “A lot of people seem to be out of town.” In the end, it can be taken on many levels, all equally enjoyable, but in spite of its lavish sets and costumes, its postcard views and its comedy bits (there’s even a man named Cartier, who is on his way to America to open a jewelry store), Ever After is best described as a simple but very charming story about two kids trying to talk their families into getting hip to the 16th century.
Well, Hello, Jerry! You’re Looking Swell
More simple pleasures await theatergoers desperate for an escape from the summer heat in an air-conditioned, trouble-free zone. I used to think the requirements for a Broadway musical were insurmountable. An Evening With Jerry Herman proves that all you need is a prolific composer who is not only a stagestruck ham but an accomplished pianist as well, two singers who can do a few simple dance steps, the logos from various shows lowered from the ceiling to change the scene, some colored gels to change the mood and, of course, a trunk full of hit tunes. The diminutive Mr. Herman provides them all. As prodigious and talented as he is, he would, by his own admission, agree that above all, he’s a gushing fan with a golly-gee enthusiasm who still sees stars when the parade passes by. Seated at the piano bench in his boyish tux against a blue Al Hirschfeld caricature, he turns positively giddy at the mention of his leading ladies, while his performing alter egos, Lee Roy Reams and Florence Lacey, punch out the lyrics to the songs Carol Channing and Angela Lansbury made famous with boxing gloves. All three wear too much makeup for a theater as intimate as the Booth, and sometimes they look like waxed fruit. But no matter. The show itself is not exactly fresh from the market. Mr. Herman, Mr. Reams and Ms. Lacey have been touring this evening of rambunctious show tunes all the way from the cabaret floor at Rainbow and Stars to the barns of Maine. No matter. The audience at An Evening With Jerry Herman is ready and eager for some summer stock, and the cheers are well deserved.
The applause is as understandable as an uncritical mind can make it. This little revue with its mass middle-American musical appeal is as close to criticproof as a summer show can get in the sweltering heat of 45th Street in August. The proof of the pudding is in the songs themselves. Taken out of context, “Before the Parade Passes By”-which, Mr. Herman confides, was written in a panic one snowy night in a Detroit hotel room with Carol Channing and Gower Champion looming nervously nearby in white terrycloth bathrobes-works as well in concert as it did opening night in Hello, Dolly! A delightfully droll song called “Penny in My Pocket,” deleted unwisely from the same score, works even better. Mr. Reams sings more assuredly than he dances, and he is an exceptionally gifted impersonator of famous voices. One of the highlights of this show is a clever demonstration of the various ways the “Hello, Dolly!” title song has been used and abused through the years, with Mr. Reams supplying the voices of Ms. Channing, Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman and Louis Armstrong. It was even recruited to sell Oscar Meyer (“Hello, Deli!”) and legitimize the Presidential campaign of Lyndon Johnson (“Hello, Lyndon!”). From 1961 to 1966, Jerry Herman was the golden boy of Broadway. Milk and Honey , Hello, Dolly! and Mame were such resounding hits that he seemed to have the Midas touch. Then, he informs us candidly, the 1970′s began a downward spiral.
Dear World (1969), Mack & Mabel (1974) and The Grand Tour (1979) were unfortunate flops. It’s a shame, really, because they produced solid scores with such great songs as “Time Heals Everything,” “I Won’t Send Roses” and “I Don’t Want to Know” all lovingly dusted off and performed with passion and tenderness. I will personally never forget the way Lisa Kirk brought down the house with the show-stopping production number “Tap Your Troubles Away” from Mack & Mabel , despite the limited proscenium space for choreography. Mr. Reams, who directed Carol Channing in the last tour of Hello, Dolly! , has directed An Evening With Jerry Herman , too, giving himself some choice bits of terpsichore. The guy has been practicing his taps. He is not Ann Miller, but he’s on his way.
The final section of the second act returns Mr. Herman to his throne with four songs from La Cage aux Folles , the 1983 hit that introduced “I Am What I Am” to the world as every drag queen’s national anthem. La Cage is the show that revived Mr. Herman’s career, and it now gives Mr. Reams a campy opportunity to stop the show by donning a red feather boa to affectionately roast such camp divas as Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich. If he ever decides to abandon Broadway, there’s a second career awaiting him in Provincetown.
Although he says he no longer feels “obsolete in my prime,” Jerry Herman now spends most of his time living in California, remotely detached from the Great White Way he obviously loves. He hasn’t written a new show in 15 years, although his vibrant, melodic score for Angela Lansbury’s TV special Mrs. Santa Claus proved beyond a doubt he still has the knack. Perhaps, in an age of rock screamers like Rent , he feels his time has passed. He is wrong. An Evening With Jerry Herman may not be the new show we need now, but it is a crowd-pleasing celebration of both the man and the audiences he has touched along the way. The songs are an established part of theater history. They are as tuneful, harmonic and thrilling as ever. You do not go away humming the scenery. You go away singing the songs, and wanting more. No doubt about it. It’s time for a new Jerry Herman show. When he brings the audience to its feet with the closing number, they clap along in rhythm, singing “The best of times is now …” Mr. Herman should listen to the message his admirers are sending back across the footlights, and make these lyrics a talisman to live by.