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  • Dan Connors


Mikaela Bennett, star of Muny's Cinderella, photo courtesy of the Muny

I was thoroughly enjoying another great Muny show last week, when I noticed something odd. The couple that had been seated next to me had left the show at intermission. As it turns out, several people left the show at intermission. When I got home to check social media, it looks like some of them were offended by the show, it’s new messages, and how it failed to live up to their memories of the movie versions.

The story of Cinderella goes back centuries, and has been changed several times, but the gold standard has always been the 1950 Disney animated movie by that name. The Muny production of Cinderella followed the successful 2013 Broadway version that incorporated Rogers and Hammerstein songs with an updated story showing Cinderella as a stronger, more feminist version. This Cinderella was concerned about social justice and befriended a hippie activist who wanted to address the prince about unfair treatment of the peasants. And instead of a thin blonde who wore a blue ball gown, this show portrayed Cinderella as a full-figured brunette with a green and yellow dress. So while the show was excellent, the changes were too much for some attendees.

Change can be disrupting, and the arts are known for pushing things further than we’re used to. Disney’s announcement that in the live action movie remake of the Little Mermaid, the starring role would go to a black woman, Halle Bailey, has caused outrage among those used to the white redhead in the animated movie. In the new Toy Story 4, a brief shot of two mothers dropping off a child at a daycare has prompted calls for a boycott of the movie. When rumors flew this week that the new 007 would be played by a black actress, James Bond fans pledged to avoid the franchise.

These are all fictional tales with fictional characters, yet people are upset because they don’t fit into the reality we want to exist. Fiction isn’t reality- it’s storytelling, and stories are always evolving. Many male Star Wars fans have not been happy about the fact that a woman, Daisy Ridley, is the heroine of the new trilogy. They’ve gone as far as to drive her off social media and post negative reviews of Star Wars movies online before they even come out.

As a white male myself, I can relate a little bit to the insecurity some see in more powerful and prominent women being depicted in the arts. (as well as business, politics, and everywhere else.) We white males have had a good run, but our days of being the default heroes are over. Now we have to earn it. Sure, I could retreat inside of a bubble and deny the changes that are coming, but I prefer to learn from them.

Improving the idea of what a hero or heroine is or does challenges us to be better people. It’s because of challenges like this that a wheelchair-bound actress like Ali Stroker could not only star in the remake of Oklahoma on Broadway, but win the Tony Award as well!

As a father of two girls, I’d rather see them emulate the new Cinderella than the old one, whose only goal was for a prince to sweep her off her feet. The new Cinderella speaks out for kindness, something we could all use a lot more of.

So for those folks who left the show early, I understand, and invite you back anytime. You missed an awesome second half. I still can’t figure out how they got that dress to convert from rags to kaleidoscopic beauty in mere seconds. The Muny is our local treasure and I hope they keep putting on shows like Kinky Boots and Cinderella to both entertain and inspire us.

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