It’s been 25 years since Brandy made history as the first Black woman to star as a Disney princess in ABC’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The television movie was praised for its diverse casting, with a Philipino prince, a Black queen, and a white king. It remains a classic. Looking back on the experience, Brandy says the best part of filming was recording music for the film alongside her longtime mentor, Whitney Houston.
Brandy agreed to star in ‘Cinderella’ if Whitney Houston played her fairy godmother
Houston handpicked Brandy to star as the princess. It was a dream project for the “I’m Your Baby Tonight” singer, and she had the rights to the movie for many years before production began. Initially, Houston was set to play Cinderella herself but opted out because of her age.
“Yes, I was supposed to be Cinderella. But after you get married and have a baby, it’s like, ‘I’m not feeling quite like Cinderella,’” Houston explained in a 1997 Jet Magazine interview. “Although I love the wonder and the innocence, I could’ve very well portrayed Cinderella, but it would’ve taken a lot of reaching. Instead, someone who’s 18 and full of that verve and that life.”
But Houston expressed that she felt Brandy was a perfect choice. “Someone who really had a lot more energy than me and who could probably play the part of Cinderella to me, I suggested Brandy,” Houston revealed in a separate interview. Brandy agreed to play Cinderella only if Houston were to play the fairy-godmother role, and the rest is history.
The singer says the best part of filming ‘Cinderella’ was studio time with Whitney Houston
Brandy enjoyed filming, relating the experience to a fairy tale. But she says the best part happened off-camera. “Honestly, my ultimate favorite moment was never in the movie,” Brandy recalled in the latest 20/20 special celebrating the movie’s anniversary. “It’s in the studio with Whitney.”
Bernadette Peters, who played Cinderella’s evil stepmother, recalled the two stars having a special bond. “Their chemistry was just off the charts,” Peters remembered. “I think Brandy admired her so much. I think Whitney was so loving to her, and what could be more perfect than that, having your fairy godmother be someone that loves you and you look up to.”
In a clip of the two singers in the studio, Houston coaches Brandy through the famous duet “Impossible.” In the special, Brandy explained that Houston helped to train her voice to transition from sounding R&B to more of a princess vibe for the songs.
“This is a historical moment,” Houston tells Brandy. “For me, “ Brandy responds, adding, “I’m standing next to you.” Houston then gushes over the young starlet. “I’m the fairy godmother, and that’s a pretty big deal. You’re the perfect Cinderella, and I’m your fairy godmother.”
‘Cinderella’ was a ratings hit
The movie was a ratings success, initially airing to 60 million viewers. It became ABC’s highest Sunday-night ratings in 10 years and scored higher ratings than ER and Seinfeld, which aired simultaneously on other networks. The network re-aired the film on Valentine’s Day in 1999, earning an additional 15 million views.
Cinderella was nominated for major awards, including seven Primetime Emmy Awards, winning one for Outstanding Art Direction for a Variety or Music Program. It inspired Disney to re-create other classic fairytale stories, later creating the first Black animated fairy tale princess in The Princess & the Frog with Princess Tiana.