A classic fairy tale gets a contemporary update when the Tony Award-winning musical “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” rides its magical pumpkin carriage into Philadelphia Nov. 25-30 at the Academy of Music.
Out actor Beth Glover plays Madame, Cinderella’s evil stepmother in the production.
Glover said this version of the story has all the hallmarks of the classic story, but with some modern sensibilities.
ACTOR BETH GLOVER
“It has all the elements of Cinderella that you know,” Glover said. “I’m the wicked stepmother and then, of course, there is the fairy godmother and there’s a prince and the pumpkin turns into a carriage. All of that is still in place, as well as the iconic glass slipper. But there is this wonderful modern twist on it. At the end of the first act, something happens with the iconic glass slipper that leaves the audience breathless. We can feel them gasp collectively and then they can’t wait to come back for the second act to see what happens.
Glover’s career so far could quality as a Cinderella story.
The Mississippi native started out working for CNN in Atlanta before deciding to pursue a career in acting. She said her background in broadcast journalism helped her when she decided to take classes in acting.
“Broadcast news is certainly an arm of performing,” she said. “You’ve got to have a strong persona to convey the news or whatever it is you are reporting. I just tried not to be an actor. My dad ran a little theater in our hometown and he also worked at a television station and was a DJ. So my entire life has been spent in the theater, a television station and a radio station. I’m a damn good DJ. I’m good with news copy and I can sing and dance and act. I really thought I should go for something stable. I’m from Mississippi so I didn’t think you could make a career in acting unless you became famous. I just never was interested in being famous and no one ever believes me. Everybody thinks that if you are in show business you must want to be famous. So I worked for CNN right out of college. I was in the newsroom and I just had an epiphany: If I don’t try acting right now, I’m going to wake up 20 years from now vice president of something. I had a really good career at CNN. I was doing so well there, in fact, that when I resigned, they transferred me to the New York bureau so I would have a job when I moved to New York. I’m still grateful for them for being so amazing to me. I got my first [acting] job the day I graduated from acting school. So I got my answer. I could make a living from this. You have to keep at it. It’s hard work. I chose two hard careers but this one I find fulfilling, stepping into other people’s shoes and telling stories this way.”
As with most fairy tales, the heroes and heroines aren’t necessarily the meatiest roles to portray; usually, it’s the villains and the supporting characters who are the more interesting from an actor’s standpoint.
“The fairy godmother obviously is beloved and the audience is just enthralled with her,” Glover said. “I think that is the way it is supposed to be. For me, I have to really navigate my humanity [playing the evil stepmother]. What is driving the humanity of the character? What is driving her? Why is she so mean? I had to dig a lot deeper. She’s got problems. She’s got a lot of anger-management issues and it is part of the story. I do have great twists and turns, though. I do have a moment where I start fantasizing with my daughters and Cinderella where we have a great time together. It’s definitely multi-layered in its production. But I’m also heinous and a bully. I do learn my lesson in the end. I do think as an actor, these kinds of roles are so much fun because you are given license to be mean.”
Glover added that the title character in this production isn’t the typical damsel waiting for other people or forces to decide her fate.
“She’s making her own decisions,” she said. “She’s been given magical power by this fairy godmother in order to get to the ball and change her life. But once she gets there, she makes her own decisions. She challenges the prince. She challenges herself. She digs deep to find out who she is. Ultimately, it is she who decides what she wants and I think that is so great. It’s also very funny.”
With the lavish sets, complex characters and humorous elements injected into the classic story, Glover said this take on Cinderella is appealing to a broad range of fans and theatergoers.
“It is for everyone,” she said. “People wait for us at the stage door and when I get to interact with the public, I’m interacting with parents, grandparents, teenagers and grammar-school-age young people. And they’re all staring at me like, ‘I just went on an adventure’ and they thank us for the two hours away from whatever it is they were doing and for them being able to come away inspired.”
Glover added that she notices a lot of couple attending the shows, attracted to the idea of soul mates finding each other.
“I think everybody wants to fall in love and find their mate in a magical way,” Glover said. “There’s always that notion of love at first sight. I do think Cinderella and the prince have that. Everybody wants romance and magic. I grew up with the regular version of Cinderella, that Disney version. You dream as a young girl of having your prince and whatever. In this version, it is so much more important than, ‘Oh, I want a prince.’ It’s, ‘Who am I? I need to know who I am before I sign up with this guy.’ That is something I’ve said to my girlfriend for thousands of years. Know yourself before you decide to get married. Know what you want before you hook up with someone. The show speaks to that but the prince also has to find himself. He makes some decisions about who he is and what he wants. So when they do finally come together, it’s on equal footing. And it’s not done is some heavy-handed rom-com kind of way. It’s beautifully woven and you are just watching it unfold.”
The Kimmel Center presents “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” Nov. 25-30 at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, call 215-790-5847.