In 1956 Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were
indisputably the world’s most successful writers of musicals. Julie
Andrews was a sparkling new star, having just triumphed in My Fair Lady.
When her agent approached Rodgers and Hammerstein and suggested that
the television audience would welcome a musical version of "Cinderella,"
it was an irresistible temptation for all.
Everything about the
project was right from the start. The CBS production team was quickly
assembled. Richard Lewine, a distant cousin of Rodgers and a close
friend, was the producer, Ralph Nelson the director. Howard Lindsay and
his wife, Dorothy Stickney, were signed for the King and Queen; Jon
Cypher played the Prince; the Stepmother and Stepsisters were made less
frightening and more comic by Ilka Chase, Kaye Ballard and Alice
Ghostley; rather than the standard old crone, the beautiful Edi Adams
played the Godmother.
Rodgers and Hammerstein approached the story
with the honesty and simplicity that characterized all their work. They
purposely did not seek to improve a story they felt was dramatically
sound, as many writers are prone to do, instead concentrating on
bringing the characters to life. Rodgers wrote in his autobiography Musical Stages,
“In writing the story and the songs, Oscar and I felt that it was
important to keep everything as traditional as possible, without any
‘modernizing’ or reaching for psychological significance.” When
Hammerstein was asked where he found the version of Cinderella story he
based his adaptation upon, he answered, “I looked it up in the
The marriage of music, lyrics and story in Cinderella
exemplified their artistic philosophy; all elements held together
integrally to illuminate the characters. As Rodgers explained, “Although
a few of its songs have become popular, our score for Cinderella
is another example of what theatre music is really about. No matter
what the medium, a score is more than a collection of individual songs.
It is, or should be, a cohesive entity whose word and music are
believable expressions of the characters singing them...Like a symphony,
concerto or opera, some portions have greater appeal than others, but
it is the work as a whole that makes the overall impression.”
succeeded. When it was broadcast on March 31, 1957, it was viewed by
more people than any other program in the history of television.