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Remembering Whitney Houston and the 1997 remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella

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Remembering Whitney Houston and the 1997 remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella

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The world is full of zanies and fools,
Who don't believe in sensible rules,
And don't believe what sensible people say ...

Well, sensible people certainly wouldn't have decided to remake Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Cinderella." After all, the original (which had starred Julie Andrews and had been broadcast live back in March of 1957) had already been remade once (Here's a fun factoid for all you Disney fans out there: It was Lesley Ann Warren's performance in the 1965 remake that convinced Walt to hire this Broadway ingenue to appear in "The Happiest Millionaire"). So what was the point of remaking Rodgers and Hammerstein's only musical for television yet again?

But Craig Zadan and Neil Meron aren't exactly sensible people. As the talented gentleman behind Storyline Entertainment, Craig and Neil had just served up the acclaimed 1993 TV movie of  "Gypsy" when they got a call from Whitney Houston's agent. Who asked if Zadan & Neil would be interested in doing something something similar with the 6-time Grammy winner.

Copyright CBS / Storyline Entertainment. All rights reserved

What Craig and Neil proposed was having Whitney play the title role in a lavish new TV movie version of "Cinderella." Which would be presented on CBS in 1994.

Ms. Houston thought that this was a terrific idea. But first she had to honor all of her previous commitments. There were albums to record, world tours to head off on, feature films like "Waiting to Exhale" & "The Preacher's Wife" to appear in. But as 1994 became 1995, and 1995 then gave way to 1996 ... CBS kind of lost interest in making this TV movie. More to the point, as Whitney herself said it in a November 1997 interview with the New York Times:

"I got married and pregnant and stuff, and basically I didn't feel like Cinderella anymore."

Copyright ABC / Storyline Entertainment. All rights reserved

But because Zadan & Meron pride themselves on being " ... daft and dewy-eyed dopes," they weren't willing to give up on remaking Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella." Which is why -- after Storyline Entertainment had set up shop at Walt Disney Studios -- Craig and Neil went back to Whitney and then proposed, rather  than playing the title role, Ms. Houston transition to playing a fierce  version of Cinderella's fairy godmother. Not to mention executive-producing this project for ABC.

This sounded like a far better fit for Ms. Houston. So -- working with Zadan, Meron and her Brownhouse Production partner, Debra Martin Chase -- Whitney mounted a $12 million reimagining of this TV musical which featured an A list cast (among the performers who appeared in "Cinderella" were Brandy, Whoopi Goldberg, Jason Alexander, Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber) as well as incredibly rich production values.

The end result for a hugely successful TV show. More than 60 million viewers tuned in for "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella," making this episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney" the top-rated television program for that week. And when awards season finally rolled around, this Storyline Entertainment / Brownhouse production was nominated for 7 different Emmys and eventually took home the award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Variety or Music Program.

Copyright ABC / Storyline Entertainment. All rights reserved

And given that the news is now full of all sort of stories about how Whitney Houston supposedly drowned in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel ... Well, I thought it might be nice -- rather than dwell on the sad circumstances surrounding this music legend's passing -- to look back on a happier time. Like when ...

... her little daughter Bobbi Kristina sat on a director's chair and watched raptly as mom filmed part of the "Impossible" number, which featured Houston gliding around on a wooden pulley so that it looked like she was flying by Cinderella's pumpkin coach.

What's particularly sad about this story is that -- as Craig Zadan just recounted in a brief interview with BroadwayWorld -- ...

"Neil (Meron) and I worked closely with Whitney on the TV production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and the movie was a magical experience. We had a reunion with Whitney last year in Atlanta and she seemed to be in a great place emotionally and we subsequently began developing a new film for her which we had hoped to do later this year. It's such a tragedy and we're so heartbroken at this terrible loss, both personally and professionally. We will miss her a lot."

As will all of Ms. Houston's fans worldwide.

So how many of you remember the 1997 remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" ? And -- if so -- what was your favorite part of this acclaimed TV movie?

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  • i remember always rewatching this take. on the story. as for favorite parts besides Whitney as the fairy godmother  Whoopie as the princes mother her wit was just hilerious.

  • I remember this movie like it was yesterday! I was just a wee one when it first came out and I still love it today as much as I did back then. I would also have to agree that Whitney as the fairy godmother was my favorite of the movie as well, but Brandy did a great job as Cinderella too. It’s a sad circumstance that all of Whitney’s movies are making their way back into the news, but it is definitely better to remember her in all her greatness instead of just wallowing in sadness. The world lost a great voice and as my way of celebrating Whitney’s life, I decided to do a movie marathon with everything I could find her in. I looked through Blockbuster’s collection in my Blockbuster @Home package through my job at Dish and not only found this movie, but tons of others that I’ll definitely be adding to my queue. It’s a sad event that took place, but all of Whitney’s fans (like myself) will always remember what a great talent she was. Thanks for your article. :)

  • Oh my Gosh! :) My School Is doing this as a Musical! :) I love Whitney Houston! I am the Godmother , and it is SO fun! :) It was cool because everyone who auditioned never knew the movie and were just auditioning because it was fun to do any play really, except for me! I found the movie on YouTube a long time ago and LOVED IT!! When our Drama teacher showed it in the auditioned, I was like, "Oh my Gosh! I have seen this before!" I wanted to be the godmother and thankfully got the part! :)

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