When Keke Palmer’s career is discussed, the talk usually centers around Disney Channel original movies, Akeelah and The Bee, or her short-lived (but well-loved) kid’s show Tru Jackson, VP. Yet there is no better indicator that Palmer has moved on from her childhood past than her starring Broadway debut in Cinderella, a performance that makes history as well as dazzles audiences with its breathtaking finesse. Vocally, Palmer proves herself more than a match for her predecessors (Carly Rae Jepsen and Paige Faure); she uses a beautiful vibrato while remaining true to her character. Her Cinderella is ambitious and goodhearted, and through it all she continues to be humble, a realistic transformation story that truly makes the magic of the show come alive.
Keke Palmer’s stunning title role is punctuated by a myriad of other show-stoppers; Sherri Shepard plays the role of the evil stepmother, and does a phenomenal job personifying the woman we love to hate. Ann Harada, who is best known for originating the role of Christmas Eve in Avenue Q, tries out a very different but similarly comical character as Charlotte the stepsister. The only performance I felt was not up to par was that of Joe Carroll’s Prince Topher. After listening to the Original Broadway Cast featuring Santino Fontana, I was expecting a more powerful voice as his replacement; unfortunately, Carroll’s disposition is just a bit too timid, especially when paired with Keke Palmer. He was entertaining acting wise, but the vocals were nothing outstanding.
With the big names out of the way, the other beautiful aspects of the show deserve their time in the spotlight. The Tony-winning costumes were just as gorgeously intricate as anticipated—Judy Kaye’s Fairy Godmother reveal is stunning, and the on-stage transformations only improve with Cinderella’s pure white ball gown. The dress is a much-needed step away from the Disney powder blue, though a nod to the beloved image is seen in the ensemble; a blonde-haired blue-eyed replica of the cartoon is outfitted in a dress almost identical to the Cinderella of the 1950 movie. The ensemble attire as a whole deserves a round of applause, each gown more beautiful than the next and each clever decision for the animal characters noted. The scene changes were flawless, particularly in the iconic transformation of the pumpkin to the golden carriage—its appearance was almost suspiciously smooth, making some audience members question whether magic actually had a role in the production.
Overall, the experience of Roger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was truly unforgettable. From the very first note of the Prologue, to the famed In My Own Little Corner, to the final chords of the finale, the show was awe-inspiring. Furthermore, the representation of Keke Palmer and Sherri Shepard was refreshing to say the least, and personally I hope this is a sign of progress for Broadway. Those who are looking for standout tracks should listen to In My Own Little Corner, Impossible/It’s Possible (an inspiration for those struggling through midterms), Stepsister’s Lament, and A Lovely Night. Anyone who is searching for a little bit of magic—if only for just one night—would be highly encouraged to see the musical.