When producers first approached Douglas Carter Beane about writing the book for a new musical version of “Cinderella,” the Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter balked.
“I passed because it seemed like there wasn’t enough story there. There wasn’t enough for two acts,” Beane said in a recent phone interview. But out of curiosity, he picked up a copy of the original French version of the fairy tale and read it to his daughter and nieces.
By the time he was done, Beane said, he discovered a far more complex and interesting story than fans of the famous 1950 Disney film will recognize. So he signed on.
Beane’s touring version of the show featuring music by Rodgers and Hammerstein, which opens a six-day run in Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, incorporates plenty of the unfamiliar plot points from the French original and includes characters almost verging on the multidimensional.
“It still delights me that all the twists and turns that people are not expecting occur and they gasp and applaud. They think it’s me doing some sort of new feminist twist, a girl-power musical,” Beane said. “But it actually is what the original French story was, that one of the stepsisters actually turns out to be a friend for Cinderella and helps her. That she meets the prince a couple of times – it wasn’t just this one psychotic meeting at a ball where they both pledged love to each other after knowing each other for perhaps three hours, tops.”
Beane, who wrote the screenplay for “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar” as well as the plays “The Little Dog Laughed,” “The Country Club” and “As Bees in Honey Drown,” said he sees it as his job to challenge theatergoers’ expectations and push them out of their comfort zones.
“As a theater writer, your comfort is actually something I’m working at chipping away at. I’m supposed to provoke you and amuse you and entertain you, and none of those three words involves comfort,” he said. “I’m supposed to make you think.”
He’s done that, he said, not only by incorporating the complexity of the original tale before it was simplified into the version most Americans know, but by adding a contemporary feel to the characters.
“I made the prince and Cinderella, without saying contemporary words so much, as contemporary as possible, so that children could identify with them,” he said. He added audiences responded ecstatically to the proposal scene, which he’s given a kind of modern twist.
“People are laughing, but they’re also crying because it is a proposal as two people would do it today who are nervous but excited. It isn’t this sort of grand gesture, it is an actual heartfelt moment and I think that makes it doubly rewarding.”
Those who grew up loving the Disney version of the story may be surprised to encounter a Cinderella (played by Paige Faure) who is not blonde and a slightly neurotic prince (Andy Jones) in the mold of any Jesse Eisenberg character. But, Beane said, if they go in with open minds, “they’ll have a great time.”
“An overwhelming majority, from the beginning of the show, get that this is a different take, and it’s fun,” he said, dismissing the concerns of some writers about Beane injecting some of his feminist and progressive thinking into the show. “I have no agenda, hidden or otherwise, other than to tell the story that I would like my daughter to see and that I would like my friends’ daughters to see.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2-7
Where: Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.
Tickets: $33 to $73
Info: 847-0850, www.sheas.org