Cinderella: Race Representation on a New Level

Luke Murphy (LM) is a junior majoring in American Studies from Tennessee. He is a student- athlete and plays baseball for Vanderbilt University.  

Hugh Fisher (HF) is a senior majoring in Human and Organizational Development from Tennessee. He is a student-athlete and plays baseball for Vanderbilt University. 

Ethan Smith (ES) is a junior majoring in American Studies from Tennessee. He is a student- athlete and plays baseball for Vanderbilt University. 

Below is our discussion of the production Cinderella by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

HF: What’s up guys, what was your initial feeling of the production? Did it stand out to you in any way?

HF: I’ll go first, but in my opinion this production was well planned and thought out. I enjoyed the production the entire way through. For me this production stood out because of its racial inclusion compared to the origin of Cinderella. As a kid, I’m assuming when we all first watched Cinderella, every character was white, and to this day if we approached someone and asked what race Cinderella was, that is the answer we would receive. However, this production took a different approach and truly worked on their inclusivity of race in the production. Between the king, queen, prince, and Cinderella, there was only one white character casted to play in these roles. I think this speaks volumes to what this production was trying to create and the route they were trying to take. Their goal, in my head, was to create a production of cinderella in which people of color or minority groups could identify with, not just white audiences, and I think they hit that mark right on the head.

LM: Hugh, I agree. I thought this was a very well-thought-out production. I never watched the original Cinderella, so watching this production gave me a good understanding of what it was like, and I thoroughly enjoyed the musical. The multi-racial casting was something that stood out to me as well. Having a little knowledge of Cinderella, I knew that the original cast was entirely white and the glass slipper’s significance. Other than that, everything else was new to me. I thought the producers did a fantastic job by including stars like Whitney Houston (Fairy Godmother), Whoopi Goldberg (Queen), and Brandy (Black Cinderella). The multi-racial cast was very natural, and people never questioned the Black mom and White dad having an Asian son. The multi-racial cast was quite significant because they proved to the audience that anything can be done. 

ES: My first initial impression of this musical was that it was perfectly put together.  You can really start to understand the characters and their roles from the beginning.  I am on the same page as you Luke, as I have never seen the original Cinderella.  Just from people talking about it and seeing pieces of it here and there, I knew the characters were all white.  I loved how they brought different races into this particular play and had different ethnicities within a family.  I agree with you Hugh on the route they took with this production.  They created a production that could be enjoyed by all people, without anyone having to raise an eyebrow about the race and ethnicity of the cast.  The subtle jokes and sarcasm were placed at the perfect times to lighten the mood in the room, so to speak.  These producers achieved their goal of making a production that had many different races and found a way to weave them all together while not affecting the play at all.    

HF: What were yall’s thoughts on the choreography, did you see any major differences from other productions we have seen, or did you find any similarities?

HF: I would say the choreography in certain scenes of this production reminded me of The Wiz. One of the opening musical numbers, “The Prince is Giving a Ball” and “Everybody Rejoice” from The Wiz, seemed to be the two numbers that drew that conclusion for me. In both musical numbers, the choreography contained bits of controllable chaos, which linked them together in my mind. However, unlike The Wiz, throughout this production I felt that the choreography mimicked what I would come to expect from Disney films, especially princess films. From an inviting arms open dance from the Fairy Godmother, Waltzing through the ball, and some awkward dancing with the evil step sisters and possible suitors, the choreography mimicked what an audience would come to expect from a princess fairytale story. 

LM: I would say the choreography in some scenes in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella reminded me of the Newsies. The musical number Something to Believe In” stood out because Katherine gave Jack something to believe in his life. Katherine was looking through Jack’s drawings of the refuge, which led to an argument and shortly to a kiss. She would help share the article and the exploitation of kids to the newspaper for a “strike”. I thought there were some similarities in the musical number “Impossible / It’s Possible” the fairy godmother and Cinderella sing and elaborate on the impossible, but what stood out was the “possible.” Whitney Houston and Brandy are telling each other that all things are possible, never give up and have something to believe in. However, she overcame the impossible and found her prince charming at the ball that she assumed she would never get to go to. These musical numbers didn’t require much choreography but their movements, hand gestures, and facial expressions are what revealed the similarities between the two numbers. 

ES: I thought the choreography was well done.  The dancing and movement from the characters lined up with their personalities throughout the production.  Cinderella, at the beginning of the production, was dancing in her quiet room alone, which in my opinion fit for the time as she was shy in my eyes.  But as the play went on, she began to dance more confidently and gain more confidence in herself when the Prince danced with her.  I saw differences, in the choreography, to “I Cain’t Say No” because the women in this play were lacking emotions when singing and this is the complete opposite in this Cinderella production.  The women in this play are full of emotions and you can see that in their facial expressions, along with tone of voice and movements.  

LM: Did y’all enjoy the songs and lyrics throughout the production? What was yall’s favorite song and why?

LM: I enjoy musicals a lot, so therefore I appreciated this one too. Although it was much different than what I normally watch, it still grasped my attention. I would catch myself moving to the rhythm of songs. These musical numbers are also very engaging due to the repetitiveness of lyrics. After a couple of minutes of listening, you can discover yourself humming along to the various musical numbers. My favorite musical number, if I had to choose, would probably be the “Impossible / It’s Possible.” I spoke about it earlier, but that song really stood out to me. The song is very inspiring, and it depicts that anything is possible in life. As a white American, I don’t know what it’s like to be an African American and go through the things that they go through on a daily basis. I like this song in the musical because Whitney Houston is explaining to Brandy that African American women can live out their lives and dreams, too, just like everyone else. 

ES: While I liked all the songs that were sung during this musical production, “A Lovely Night” is one that stood out to me.  Cinderella sings with so much emotion behind her words, that I really feel for her.  When her step sisters join in, I feel it brings a connection together that is lovely to see.  Her pure happiness and hope to dance with the prince is shown through her voice and actions she makes while singing. Spinning around the house as if there is nothing else on her mind.  It sets a very bright mood during this part of the play, that is shut down by her step mother, telling her she will never get the chance to dance with the prince and should give up on that happening.  While I enjoyed the songs in the play, like Luke, this one was beautifully written and completed by their fantastic voices.  

HF: Yeah, I’d agree with both of y’all. I think the songs and lyrics were extremely catchy. I think my favorite song from the production was “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful. I think the lyrics in the song mimic similar aspects of romance that a lot of people go through and I think this made the song more relatable on a personal level. Not only were the lyrics through this song appealing, I think the story they were telling through the song truly caught my eye. The prince and Cinderella were falling in love with one another, but they weren’t sure why, and sometimes you’re just never sure why. That’s why I enjoyed this piece more than any other. 

ES: What was yall’s opinion of the open dialogue between characters?

HF: I honestly thought that the dialogue throughout the production was extremely well done. The dialogue was serious when a scene required it, and witty and humorous at other times, and honestly was not what I was expecting. An example was when the Prince had come to the stepsisters and Cinderella’s home. They bickered and even poked at each other, which was something I wasn’t quite expecting, but I really enjoyed those scenes.

LM: I agree with you Hugh; the open dialogue in the production was properly done. Not having a background of Cinderella, I didn’t really know what to expect from the dialogue. I figured it would be serious and all about love throughout; however, the sense of humor of the characters was something that caught my eye. The two stepsisters in the production had quite a sense of humor, and I thought it was used in the right place at the right time. In the production, the audience would also be acquainted with the serious and intimate moments that were presented between the characters. I thought the production crew did a fabulous job by integrating different personalities, which is why the dialogue was properly done. It made it much easier for the audience to engage with the cast members; therefore, it felt like they were living in the moment.

ES:  I completely agree with you Luke, about the producers finding a way to combine the personalities.  The dialogue within this production is very well thought out and perfectly executed.  I also had no idea what to expect before watching it.  I figured it would be about love and happiness without any conflict, but shortly I noticed I was wrong.  The producers do a great job of placing funny scenes at the right place just when things are getting serious.  Part of me wanted to see more conflict and issues be resolved, but I had to remember this is produced for a younger audience.  The step mom rubbed me the wrong way through her actions and words, being very selfish and wanting things for herself instead of for others.  Overall, the dialogue was well put together and caused for a great successful production.

HF: Alright guys, last question. What do you think made this production an important piece in creating a representation of race?

LM: Race has become a more prevalent topic since the original Cinderella was created and produced. The Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella plays into the importance of racial diversity when casting a film or production. It’s important that children and adults alike are seeing different races and cultures portrayed in popular, world-renowned films. For people of color, it’s encouraging to see people who look like them on the stage. The multi-racial cast is what the world looks like, and I believe that’s why this production creates a great representation of race. The production of Cinderella can remind people that “it can be done.” 

ES:  Race is completely different in this production of Cinderella compared to the first one.  It  shows different races within a family, and different races working together to create a great product.  It is made for everyone to watch no matter the race or ethnicity of the audience.  It brings different cultures together, which is what the world needs at this time.  It holds a great deal of importance to the minority groups that have been left out of musicals for a long time, to really show that they can recreate a well known play, and do it very well.  It shows the people watching it that no matter the race, people can come together and work together to produce something that will be remembered forever.  I enjoyed the different races of this musical as they all brought something different to the table and made it work.  

HF: This Cinderella production also stood out to me as representing race due to the casting. I watched the original Cinderella animation as a kid and when I think back to it, there was not one character who was not white throughout the entire film. This production was casted in a way that had multiple races represented, and I’d agree with what both of you said that this gives a sense of community and the feeling that no matter what race you were born under, you still have the chance to do something meaningful and can live a great life, even be a princess if you want to. 

The Newsies of Oklahoma!

         By: Hugh Fisher      

Throughout the history of musicals and stage performances, there have always been characters that depict the overzealous white male. Newsies and Oklahoma! are no exception. Les, a young boy in Newsies, and Will, an adult in Oklahoma!, although separated by at least a decade in age, share similar traits of masculinity and whiteness. Toxic masculinity does not only adult males, but rather can be seen even through a young boy who is currently making his transition into adulthood.

Beginning with Les, as a child early in Newsies, he seemed like an innocent young boy, who even referred to himself as a “little kid.” At the age of 10, who would not still consider themselves to be a kid. However, as his character develops along the way, we can see Les change his mindset from being that of a kid enjoying life, to one of a toxic masculine nature. Les’ work often surrounds him with teenage males who are more than likely becoming his biggest influences. The teenagers that Les works with carry a certain level of masculinity that Les tries to implement in his own life, in order to fit in. As the musical plays on we see Les develop from his childlike role into that of a teenage male, reflecting the teenagers he spends time around. In one specific scene, we truly come to understand just how different Les has become. He approaches his brother, Davey, and Jack. Les tells them that he is late to a date and mentions, “I’ve been swattin’ skirts away all morning.” Les, without knowing it has slowly come to embody toxic masculine traits.

As a child, a woman is the being that gave you life and often shows you the most love, however, Les is no longer identifying females as this, but rather sexual beings that he is beginning to exploit. Although we never see Les’ actual interactions with women, we can assume that one day he is going to interact with them the same way Will does in Oklahoma!.

Will, an adult cowboy in Oklahoma!, displays similar traits of toxic masculinity, however, unlike Les we see how he acts on them. During the song “All ‘Er Nothing”, Will displays his true masculine nature to Annie. The entire song displays Will’s thoughts on how Annie’s love should be. Will tells her that she either is to show him all her love in return for all of his, or nothing in return for no love, “no half and half romance will do.” However, that is not how Will truly feels, he basically demands that Annie stays faithful to him. Not only does will demand that Annie show him, and only him, love and affection, but later in the song hypocritically kisses another woman who dances her way on screen. Will’s demanding that Annie stay faithful, however he chooses to invoke his natural tendencies of masculinity and act however he wants with the feeling that he will have little repercussion.

Lastly, and most importantly at the end of this song, Will forces himself upon Annie in a manner that shows his dominant masculine nature. Will pins Annie into the corner of the horse pen and forces a kiss on her cheek as she turns away, her consent was clearly not considered. Will not only demands things of women that he would never do, but ignores consent and believes that every woman must be in love with him. The masculinity that Will acts upon, ignores all social boundaries and invokes a sense of dominance over the female gender.

Will and Les, although different in age and actions, share similar traits that as Les develops might begin to look extremely identical. Les is just a young child, but as he begins to develop so will his sense of masculinity. I believe that Will as a young child might have made similar remarks, simply thinking that he would appeal as one of the cool kids, or even come off as a ‘ladies’ man.’ However, as he grew older, he grew into the words he spoke and began to act on them. Now imagine, if at the age of ten a boy is already objectifying women. Les is headed down the same path as Will, whether he knows it or not.

In conclusion, I believe it is important to remember that kids do not always grow up to act similarly to how they were as a child. I think Les is an intelligent kid, he is simply trying to fit into an older crowd. However, if he continues to follow the same teenagers around he might find himself in the same predicament as Will. Will embodies the spitting image of toxic masculinity, and if Les is not careful he will end up in the exact same position.