Famed composers Richard Rodgers And Oscar Hammerstein wrote "Cinderella" as an original television musical (their only one) for young star-in-the-making Julie Andrews. Supported by a cast which included Edie Adams, Howard Lindsay, Dorothy Stickney, Ilka Chase, Kay Ballard, Alice Ghostley and Jon Cypher, it received a tremendous publicity campaign and aired on March 31 1957. At the time, it drew a record number of viewers, although only the East Coast saw the live color broadcast (the rest of the country saw a black-and-white kinescope.) And, due in part to the poor quality of the kinescope, it was not repeated again until 2004.
Meanwhile, in 1964, Rodgers decided to mount a new production himself (Hammerstein had since died) with a new cast and adaptation, replacing the farcial quality of the original with a more traditional version. The result was another ratings smash, and as intended, a television perennial which was repeated for years. This time, the title role was played by young Lesley Ann Warren, who was introduced in this production and began a career which is still going strong today. Stuart Damon (later to gain fame on "General Hospital") played the prince. The supporting cast had Academy Award-winners Celeste Holm, as the fairy godmother, Jo Van Fleet as the stepmother, and Ginger Rogers as the queen. The beloved Walter Pigeon was cast as the king. And, as the two stepsisters Prunella and Esmerelda, were Pat Carroll and Barbara Ruick. Although the story stuck to the familiar fairy tale this time, the original songs were , of course, retained.
What more can be said for this near-perfect treasure? Ms. Warren is simply glorious as Cinderella, her fresh beauty complimented by her sweet singing voice, and Damon is her ideal Prince (Christopher) Charming. Celeste Holm sparkles as the fairy godmother, and she and Warren share one of the best numbers "Impossible/It's Possible". Van Fleet is a beautifully caustic stepmother, and both Carroll and Ruick are outstanding as the step-sisters. Unfortunately, both Rogers and Pigeon have little to do as the king and queen, but they ARE regal in their roles.
There are a couple of drawbacks--although critics at the time praised the "lavish production"; in reality it is done in the manner of a stage show, with sparse (and very basic) settings, and typical television camera-work. But the biggest error was using videotape instead of film for this production. Because of it's limitations, videotape does no justice to a show like this, severely limiting the visual values needed to compliment the other elements. It may be fine for situation comedies, but it was totally wrong for a musical fantasy. It must be admitted, however, that after a few minutes, one gets used to it, but what a difference film would have made! Because this version is the traditional one, it is my favorite of the two, but both are so different in approach and treatment, that each can be enjoyed on their own terms.
Two cast members of the 1965 version were already professionally acquainted with "Cinderella". Walter Pigeon provided the uncredited narration for the 1955 MGM film adaptation "The Glass Slipper" and Barbara Ruick was the daughter of character actress Lurene Tuttle, who played "Cousin Loulou" in the same movie. Another winner, that version featured Leslie Caron as Cinderella.