The 1997 TV film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is getting an encore showing on ABC following a 25th anniversary reunion special on 20/20. A fan favorite, the movie was a seminal experience for many millennial theatre fans thanks in part to its diverse, all-star cast, many of whom were at the height of their talents, including Whitney Houston, Brandy, Paolo Montalban, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, and more.
But casting was not all that this third TV adaptation of the fairy tale musical shook up. Screenwriter Robert L. Freedman and director Robert Iscove decided to give the talented cast they’d collected more chances to sing by adding a number of songs to Cinderella’s score. Though Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals aren’t known for getting major changes after their premieres, Freedman and Iscove had precedent on their side with Cinderella; stage adaptations as far back as 1958 had added songs from the duo’s short-lived musical Me and Juliet and a cut song written for Oklahoma!, and the 1965 TV re-make added a song cut from South Pacific.
Let’s take a look at the songs that were added to the 1997 Cinderella and find out where they come from.
“The Sweetest Sounds”
Unlike the original 1957 version, which opens with the announcement of the impending royal ball, Freedman’s script opens with a marketplace meet-cute between Cinderella and her soon-to-be Prince Charming in disguise. They sing “The Sweetest Sounds,” the opening number of the only musical for which Rodgers wrote both music and lyrics, No Strings, which opened on Broadway in 1962 and is probably best known for being the vehicle upon which Diahann Carroll became the first Black actor to win a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. In No Strings, the song is a prologue not directly connected to the plot in which both characters sing of love on the horizon, making it an easy song to slot into the beginning of Cinderella.
“Falling in Love with Love”
Cinderella’s stepmother doesn’t get her own song in the original score of Cinderella, but once you’ve cast two-time Tony winner Bernadette Peters in the role, she had better get one! Freedman’s suggestion was “Falling in Love With Love,” written by Richard Rodgers with his primary pre-Hammerstein collaborator Lorenz Hart for their 1938 musical The Boys From Syracuse, a re-telling of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. In The Boys From Syracuse, the wise Adriana sings the song to the female ensemble telling them of the dangers of getting carried away with love, and Freedman thought a similar scenario could be constructed between the wicked stepmother and her daughters. The Rodgers and Hammerstein estates initially balked at the idea of interpolating Hart’s biting and somewhat bitter lyrics into a Rodgers and Hammerstein score, but once Peters had been cast, all parties agreed it was the correct choice.
“There’s Music in You”
Speaking of using the talents of your cast to their fullest, Whitney Houston as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother had already been given a new prologue version of her song “Impossible” right at the top of the film, and so it was decided that she should close out the production as well. Freedman and Iscove turned to an unusual source for a new finale, a little-seen 1953 film Main Street to Broadway that features Rodgers and Hammerstein in cameo appearances playing themselves as they write a song for their new musical. That song, “There’s Music in You,” remained a one-off until it became the new finale for the 1997 Cinderella. Though not used as the finale, this song remained in the Cinderella score for the 2013 Broadway production, which was perhaps the most dramatic revision from the 1957 original overall.
Honorable Mention: “The Prince is Giving a Ball”
This song was written for and performed in the original Cinderella but, to give a better showcase of Jason Alexander’s complete toolset, Freedman and Iscove combined it with the Steward’s song “Your Majesties” and further expanded the number with a new patter section featuring lyrics by none other than Chicago and Cabaret lyricist Fred Ebb for the 1997 version.