The 1997 TV production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, starring Brandy and the late Whitney Houston, celebrates its 25th anniversary with a reunion special for ABC-TV's 20/20 August 23. The one-hour-long event will feature original cast members Brandy, Whoopi Goldberg, Paolo Montalban, Victor Garber, Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander, and Veanne Cox, along with Billy Porter, Todrick Hall, Jade Jones, and more reflecting on the impact of the movie musical. Watch a promo for the special above.
The special will be followed by the first broadcast TV airing of the film in more than two decades. Flip through our exclusive digital Playbill program for the movie musical below.
“We’re delighted that the 25th anniversary of this landmark incarnation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is being celebrated on its original network,” said Concord Theatricals SVP Imogen Lloyd Webber on behalf of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization in an earlier statement. “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s unforgettable score is truly timeless—still enchanting listeners 80 years after their partnership began and 65 years since their ‘Cinderella’ first charmed the largest audience in television history.”
Initially aired November 2, 1997, as part of the Wonderful World of Disney lineup on ABC, the film features Brandy as Cinderella opposite Houston as the Fairy Godmother, with a number of theatre luminaries rounding out the cast. Bernadette Peters co-stars as the Stepmother with Veanne Cox and the late Natalie Desselle as Stepsisters Calliope and Minerva, respectively. Whoopi Goldberg plays Queen Constantina, with Victor Garber as King Maximillian, Paolo Montalbán as Prince Christopher, and Jason Alexander as the valet Lionel.
ABC estimated that more than 60 million people watched the program live. The special was noted at the time for its colorblind casting that resulted in a celebrated multi-cultural representation. "It’s extraordinary," said Victor Garber at the NYC premiere in 1997. "I’m married to Whoopi Goldberg and I have an Asian son."
In addition, the score was expanded to give more vocal work to three of the leading ladies. Brandy and Montalbán sing “The Sweetest Sounds” from No Strings, Peters sings “Falling in Love With Love” from The Boys From Syracuse, and Houston sings “There's Music in You” over the finale.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is directed by Robert Iscove and written by Robert L. Freedman, based on Oscar Hammerstein II’s original book. Houston (who originally optioned the project to star as Cinderella but passed the torch along to Brandy after years of development shakeups) co–executive produced with Debra Martin Chase, Craig Zadan, and Neil Meron. Chris Montan was a producer, and Robyn Crawford was an associate producer.
The creative team included choreographer Rob Marshall (five years before his Hollywood success with Chicago), costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, and music director Paul Bogaev. In 1998, Cinderella scored seven Primetime Emmy Award nominations, including one win for the Outstanding Art Direction for a Variety or Music Program going to production designer Randy Ser, art director Edward L. Rubin, and set decorator Julie Kaye Fanton.
The original 1957 Cinderella starred Julie Andrews and was written solely for television at the height of Rodgers and Hammerstein's success and popularity. Another made-for-TV version, starring Lesley Ann Warren, debuted in 1965. The musical was also adapted for the stage as early as 1958, and most notably in a revised version with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane on Broadway in 2013, which added “There's Music in You” to the score.