About That Glass Slipper Thing

It’s hard to imagine wearing any article of clothing made from a substance known for its ability to puncture and shred flesh. And yet. Who’s Cinderella without a glass slipper?

giphy (3)

The basic idea of the Cinderella story—young woman, bad circumstances, objects incite a change of fate—dates back thousands of years to many, many cultures spanning the globe. The current givens about Cinderella—fairy godmother, prince, glass slippers—we owe to French author Charles Perrault. Disney’s animated film, of course, seared their adaptation of Perrault’s tale into our collective brains so completely that sometimes it’s hard to imagine the story without talking mice. Perrault added the elements of the fairy godmother, the pumpkin carriage and the glass slippers, which have become synonymous with the story.

Next weekend, we welcome back Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the musical theater duo’s adaptation of the Perrault-inspired folk tale which has nothing to do with Disney, please note. The show does very well because people love this story, and they never stop loving Perrault’s particular embellishments. If you want to see a crowd of disappointed faces, show them a version of Cinderella with no glass slippers. It would be like going to a version of Ireland with no green fields or Guinness. Just doesn’t compute. Shouldn’t exist.

2018Cinderella0144r

(L-R) Sean Ryan, Leslie Jackson and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

The glass slippers, like the fairy godmother and her magic, require a delightful suspension of disbelief to make the story work. It’s myth and folklore at its most enchanting. Naturally, science ruins myth with its evidence-based understanding of the world, and so it goes for our young soot-covered maiden’s infamous footwear.

First, let us give you the good news: the glass slippers could exist. It’s not like arguably-functional glass slippers are impossible. About three years ago, some mechanical engineers got together to determine the feasibility of glass slippers. They deduced that you could wear a pair of soda lime glass (i.e., coke bottle “everyday” glass) shoes if you stood perfectly still and weighed roughly 110 pounds.

Here’s the scientific assessment, though, and it raises the more important question of whether or not glass slippers should exist.

giphy

First, you’d still have to be 110 pounds with a size 6 foot. The heel would have to be less than a half-inch to keep the shoes from shattering once you started walking. That’s roughly the height of nice pair of Florida flip flops which is to say “flats” which is to say who cares about the glass slippers if they don’t have a legit heel? The glass would have to be tempered safety glass, not regular glass. Safety glass seems okay until you start thinking about bending your foot, or slipping on the Prince’s polished ballroom dance floor, or running briskly down several stairs in a heart-pounding race against midnight. Safety glass is just thicker, not unbreakable. So, one step at the wrong angle and crash!, the weight pressure will shatter your instep, sending you to the ER at midnight in your raggedy dress.

The upside, however, is that it would have been much easier for the Prince to find Cinderella by tracking the trail of bloody footprints to the sliding door of the ER, and he never would have had to touch the feet of those odious step-sisters.

Cinderella-Shoes

L to R: Jimmy Choo design, Nicolas Kirkwood design, Paul Andrew design.

Back to reality: some of the world’s most high-profile fashion designers took the challenge of creating a glass-slipper shoe in 2015, when Disney released their live-action Cinderella film. Jimmy Choo, Ferragamo, Charlotte Olympia and six others whipped up fabulous shoes with enough sparkle and Swarovski to put a fairy godmother to shame. These designs turned into real-life buyable, wearable couture, and you can still get your hands on a pair with minimal Google-work. That same year in Japan, the glass artisans of Nakamura Glass Studio unveiled their hand-blown slippers, made by a process without cutting or molds, that took eight years to perfect and seem to contradict the mathematical findings of our aforementioned engineers. At $697.00 per shoe—that’s $1394.00 per pair—you yourself should probably be in the post-Prince part of the Cinderella story. We have no idea if you can walk or run in them, but you can buy them and put them on your feet. On a scale of 1-10, the comfort level looks to be around an H, indicating that some things may be best left in the realm of the imagination.

Nakamura glass_shoe1

Hand-blown glass slippers from Nakamura Glass Studio.

Come to the realm of imagination when Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella plays in Morsani Hall July 5-8.

Drawing on Theater Magic

The tricky business of adapting an animated movie into a stage musical

 “The book was better.”

So goes the typical critique of movies based on novels, but one rarely hears “I liked the cartoon better” as audiences stream from theater venues where their favorite Disney film characters sang-and-danced through a musical version of the animated film.

What secret of adaptation makes or breaks a story’s translation from one genre to the next?

Adaptation itself is a challenging art form. Daunting, formidable, some brutal act of transmogrification that must appear easy to do … Charlie Kaufman’s film Adaptation, about him cracking up while taking a crack at turning Susan Orlean’s lurid, Florida-based book The Orchid Thief into a screenplay, remains the unchallenged authority on what writers can go through trying to get it right from page to screen.

Or screen to stage.

For the writer—and in the case of Disney animated movies, the creative team—the logistics of space and time present the first two puzzles. How do I take this 350-page novel that covers three generations and boil it down to a 100-page screenplay? Or, how do we take a 72-minute animated movie and convert it to a two- or two-and-a-half-hour full-blown musical?

Story. That solves the two puzzles of time and space. For a movie, the story generally follows one character’s journey through some type of transformation, accompanied by a B story, or subplot for a minor character. (Vignettes, where the film cuts from one character’s story to another, is a popular way to have several equally-important plot lines going at once.) Most film adaptations of books fail to satisfy because the intricacies of the plots, the legion of minor characters, the flavor of the language and the gripping descriptions of place and person—what ignites our imaginations and is the very nature of the book form’s storytelling power—weighs down a screenplay, which is a streamlined form of storytelling through pictures that move. (Hence the early naming of films as “moving pictures” that became the truncated “movies.”)

In a stage adaptation of an animated film, more songs and dance numbers fluff out the story, changing the 72-minute movie to a two act, two hour musical. Characters reveal more personal details, more depth about themes and plot, with more music for the stage version.

For Disney, The Lion King remains triumphantly successful not only at the box office but also as an act of adaptation itself. Their stage musical arm, Disney Theatrical Productions, headed by Thomas Schumacher, made a bold and ultimately brilliant choice hiring avant-garde puppet theater expert Julie Taymor to conceive of the adaptation in the 90’s.

Theater’s magic lies in the fact that the audience can—coached with good lighting, stimulating costumes and evocative music—suspend its disbelief to the point of what is called “filling in the blanks” on stage. For example, a spiral staircase becomes the entire landscape for Pride Rock, and actors transport the audience members to some place magical in their imaginations though they never leave the theater.

For Taymor and the team putting together the stage version of The Lion King, reliance on the audience’s ability to fill the blanks and suspend disbelief was the gamble that paid off in the end: Taymor purposefully designed the puppets for the actors to wear, so puppet-human-animal appears visible at all times. Taymor’s artistic deviation from the animated movie—her response to how to solve the problem of making animals come to life on stage with human actors—risked alienating the core audience. However, Taymor’s vision worked. Not only did it work, it elevated Disney’s animated story to legitimate theatrical artistry.

In the final analysis, what makes or breaks the translation from one genre to another is having the work in the hands of artists and craftspeople who understand the unique demands of the individual art forms: Can we take all that makes a book a book and find a way to translate it into all that makes a movie a movie? Can we take a 72-minute cartoon and craft it into a work of theatrical art?

Taymor, who immersed herself with indigenous theater cultures and ran a mask-dance company in Indonesia before her directorial success in the U.S., knew the best ways to translate The Lion King’s story symbolically and literally for the stage and for the Broadway musical audience of Disney fans. Choreographer Garth Fagan added his exquisite choreography for the animal-human movements, and the circle of life, at least for this adaption, was complete.

(In an interesting note: Taymor originally pitched the idea of rewriting the entire ending, adding a Trump-like villain named Papa Croc who tricks Simba into fighting gladiator-style in Papa Croc’s Vegas-esque desert oasis. The end. Obviously, Disney execs eighty-sixed that adaptation of their movie.)

The Lioness Returns

Kissy Simmons as Nala in The Lion King.

Kissy Simmons as Nala in The Lion King.

Kissy Simmons’ early career began on stages around the Tampa Bay region, one of which was our Jaeb Theater. She left for New York City the week of Sept. 11, 2001, to audition for Aida, a Disney production. Her audition led to an interest in her for The Lion King, and she and her husband stayed in the city during the chaos of the September 11th crisis. That Monday, Sept. 17, Kissy was cast as Nala in The Lion King, directed by lauded Julie Taymor, and began a decade-long journey with the show on Broadway, in Las Vegas and on the first national tour, which came to Morsani Hall in 2002.

Kissy, short for Kissimmee, a town close to her birthplace of Floral City, FL, returns to the Jaeb Theater Nov. 1, 2014, for a solo show as part of our brand new Cabaret Series. In many ways, she is returning to her roots, and we are happy to welcome her home. Caught in the Act caught up with Kissy by phone in her New York City apartment to talk about identity and place and her upcoming performance in the Jaeb.

CitA: We’ve been hearing rumors that your show is going to be a retrospective/introspective look at your life from the Straz to Broadway and back again. Is this true? And will you talk a little bit about how your upbringing in Florida has shaped your life as a performer?

KS (laughs): My show centers around the Straz, how I got my start, and where life has gone. For me, it all hinges from church. I was just a church girl who wanted to play the organ. I saw our organist in church and I thought “oh my goodness, I want to play the organ!” My talent derived from that environment and was facilitated there—even acting. We did skits and had to deliver Christmas speeches. You know, you don’t think about ‘down the road’ when you’re doing it, but now I look back and see. I look at my daughter (2-year-old Sadie), and I know that experiences like that matter. It makes a difference, at least it did for me. Those are my roots. The Straz … well, that was a really big deal. I had this idea of being a performer, but I didn’t know what that meant, it felt like a fantasy. I didn’t know how I would get there. I would audition at the [Florida] theme parks and couldn’t get a job with them. Luckily, the Straz was there and I was able to do so many cabaret shows. The Straz was a blessing. I even got married there!

We didn’t know that! Do tell.

Yes, by the water. We were in rehearsals for Swing! Swing! Swing! I approached Judy [Lisi, Straz Center President] to do something small, and she was like “oh, honey…” and my little idea turned into a wedding I never could have imagined! It was run like a show with calls and everything.

Kissy Simmons returns to the Jaeb Theater on Nov. 1 to kick-off the Straz Center's brand new Cabaret Series.

Kissy Simmons returns to the Jaeb Theater on Nov. 1 to kick-off the Straz Center’s brand new Cabaret Series.

That’s fantastic. So this is a real coming home for you.

I feel no shame in where I’m from. I’m from Floral City, the town with one traffic light. I walk around New York City in my cowboy boots. That’s where I’m from—I’m a small town country girl. You are who you are. For me to come back from being away and experiencing so many cultures, Vegas, New York … it’s refreshing to come home and see how people can ground you. When I go to Winn-Dixie [the grocery store], people say hello. My high school friends who stayed now have their kids at Inverness Middle School. It’s nice to see people I have roots with rooted in their own families. There are so many people to keep me connected, and it’s important for me to come back—but it is just as important for me to give back. You realize people have been rooting for you this whole time, and it’s a two-way street. It’s an opportunity to perform for people who supported me. People give me the strength to be able to do this, and I like to give it back. I’ll always be in and out of Florida even though New York is where we are.

You are an extremely down-to-earth person, with a relatively normal life, long-time marriage, a child … how do you stay humble in the entertainment business and stay out of a lot of the traps of the lifestyle?

I met Anthony [her husband] when we were both running track at USF [the University of South Florida]. I saw him and knew that was what I wanted, and that was that! (laughs) I know entertainment is what it is. I see it as such a blessing and opportunity. I get to do what I love. All jobs are important. All of our jobs no matter what it is are so important, and I view life that way. To blow it or waste it, for me, would be tragic. I know people recover [from addictions] and overcome, which is wonderful. But I just look at it like a huge blessing that I get to participate in. I’m my own worst critic, and in this business, it’s subject to people’s opinions. It’s a judged environment, and that can be hard. I learned humility through church, and maybe if I didn’t know to pray then I would be tempted to do something external to help me out, but I can stay grounded in being grateful for the opportunity. But that’s just my perspective, just the path I have been on.

We are really looking forward to having you to all to ourselves for your cabaret show. Will you give us a little sneak peek of what we can expect?

Let’s just say … expect some familiar tunes! Especially from shows done in the Jaeb. This performance is going to be a great time. Expect lots of fun and fun moments. Stan Collins, my piano player—he’s phenomenal. I wouldn’t do this show with anyone else! It’ll be me, Stan, and bass and drums. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Kissy Simmons, as Nala, and the Lionesses in The Lion King.

Kissy Simmons, as Nala, and the Lionesses in The Lion King.