The year 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of the television broadcast of Rodgers & Hammersteins CINDERELLA, starring Julie Andrews. When it aired on CBS-TV on March 31, 1957, it was seen by the largest audience in television history: 107 million people in the U.S. (60 percent of the countrys population at that time) and another 10 million internationally. It was truly an event, a golden moment in the Golden Age of Television.
In 1956, following initial conversations with NBC about writing a new musical for television, Rodgers & Hammerstein struck a deal with their old friend Richard Lewine at CBS. CBS had signed newcomer Julie Andrews, who was starring in MY FAIR LADY on Broadway, to star in a television musicaland Rodgers & Hammerstein would write it. In September 1956, it was announced that the musical was to be CINDERELLA.
CINDERELLA was written for the unique parameters of event television, a 90-minute program with six commercial breaks. The action, songs and dances were meticulously crafted to fit into half a dozen separate acts.
Because of Julie Andrews commitment to MY FAIR LADY, rehearsals and the broadcast of CINDERELLA took place in New York City. Broadway was the source of much of the talented cast that included Ilka Chase as the Stepmother, Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley as the Stepsisters, Edie Adams as the Fairy Godmother, and the husband-and-wife team of Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney as the King and Queen. Jon Cypher, a previously unknown actor, played the Prince.
The production was broadcast from the CBS Color Studio 72 at Broadway and 81st Street, which was the smallest color studio, but the best option in New York. Packed into the cramped 4,200-square-foot space were 56 performers, 33 musicians, 80 crew, 100 costumes, huge set pieces and lots of props.
Because CBS spent so much on this production (in total, the then unheard-of sum of $375,000), it rolled out a massive P.R. and marketing campaign to support it. Also contributing to the campaign were the two sponsors of the program, Pepsi-Cola and Shulton, the maker of Old Spice. Rodgers & Hammerstein participated in the campaign with several high-profile interviews and appearances, including one on The Ed Sullivan Show one week before the broadcast. In addition, Rodgers & Hammerstein wanted to be surewith only one broadcast of this new musicalthat their songs would be heard. Julie Andrews recorded a six-song special promotional record that was sent to television and radio stations; Vic Damone, Peggy King and Paul Westons Orchestra recorded an album of four songs and finally the CINDERELLA company recorded the original cast album in its entirety. This album was in stores the morning after the broadcast.
The 107 million people that watched CINDERELLA meant that 24.2 million households were tuned in, with an average of 4.43 viewers per television set. Based on this number of viewers, it was calculated that OKLAHOMA! would have had to play to capacity at its Broadway theatre, 8 shows per week for 140 years to be seen by the same number of people.
Though a huge success, Rodgers & Hammerstein never wrote for television again, but returned to Broadway. Two new television versions of CINDERELLA have been made since, in 1965 starring Lesley Ann Warren and the 1997 version that starred Brandy and Whitney Houston, which marks its 10th anniversary this year.
In 1992, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron approached R&H with the idea to remake CINDERELLA for ABC with Whitney Houston as one of the stars and an executive producer. Whitney believed passionately about the project because of the positive message to children that nothing is impossible and dreams do come true. The creative team wanted to infuse CINDERELLA with a 90s sensibility but to remain faithful to the spirit of the original.
A new teleplay was written by Robert L. Freedman, which updated the storys values and tone but remained close to the original in both structure and style. In addition to updating the arrangements and orchestrations of the original score, new songs were added as well: The Sweetest Sounds, written by Richard Rodgers for NO STRINGS in 1962, Falling In Love With Love, from Rodgers & Harts 1938 THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE and Theres Music In You, from a 1953 film, MAIN STREET TO BROADWAY.
Also updated for this 1997 version of CINDERELLA was the all-star, colorblind cast from Broadway, television, film and the music industry. It featured Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, Brandy as Cinderella, Bernadette Peters as The Stepmother, Whoopi Goldberg as the Queen, Victor Garber as the King, Paolo Montalban as the Prince, Jason Alexander as his Steward and Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle as the Stepsisters.
CINDERELLA was broadcast on November 2, 1997 on ABCs The Wonderful World of Disney and, like the original, again set records. Over 60 million people watched CINDERELLA, making it the highest-rated television musical in years. It was not only the most-watched program of the night; it was also the most-watched program of the week. CINDERELLA gave ABC its strongest showing in its time slot in 14 years. The critics embraced it for the new adaptation and multi-ethnic cast. Again, Rodgers & Hammersteins CINDERELLA was a triumph.