Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella first appeared on CBS in 1957, starring Julie Andrews. And in 1997, it found a new life with Disney for the TV movie produced by Whitney Houston and starring Brandy Norwood as Cinderella. While it features the songs from the original musical, a few more were added to really work with the strengths of the cast.
Bernadette Peters’ Stepmother needed her own song
When it came to casting the evil Stepmother, one of the executive producers Debra Chase Martin said it was the hardest role to cast. But once they chose Bernadette Peters, it just clicked, especially in the final outcome of the film. But in the original production, the Stepmother doesn’t have a solo.
“When we ended up having Bernadette come on as the stepmother, we realized pretty quickly that we’d have to find her a song,” writer Robert Freedman told Shondaland in 2017. He said that they were given some free reign of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s repertoire as long as it wasn’t well-known already.
Neil Meron, another executive producer, said that they landed on “Falling in Love With Love,” written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for The Boys From Syracuse. The lyrics fit in so well during the scene where the Stepmother is trying to discourage her daughters from romanticizing marriage.
“If you sing that one right it’s basically a warning to young girls, the stepdaughters, not to fall in love with the idea of love, but to be practical and marry for money instead,” Freedman said. It took some convincing, but the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization allowed it.
‘The Sweetest Sounds’ was a great new introduction for Cinderella and The Prince
Another song, one of the most romantic in the movie, is also an add-on. “The Sweetest Sounds” is the duet at the very beginning of the musical, when Brandy’s Cinderella makes her appearance in the outdoor market.
It’s light, airy, and very dreamlike, which goes hand-in-hand with the lyrics and the scene. She’s dreaming of a love somewhere far away that will sort of save her from her current life. The Prince (Paolo Montalban) is doing the exact same thing, dressed as a commoner and dreamily walking through the same market. The song comes from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical called No Strings.
“We thought it would be a great intro song for Cinderella and The Prince; every musical needs the key ‘I Want’ song,” Meron said.
Whitney Houston’s final showstopper is from a different movie
The final song in the movie, “There’s Music in You,” was originally in the 1953 film Main Street to Broadway, which featured a rare acting appearance by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
Director Robert Iscove talked about the first time they showed the song to Houston, and how he was bold enough to go straight in for a hug.
“I went up and gave her a hug. I don’t know why I was so ballsy in that moment,” he joked. “She looked at me and said, ‘Well, I guess we are going to be working together.’”
When it came down to the song, she didn’t give them a hint as to what she thought as she listened. But it fit perfectly and she liked it.
“We were all terrified that she was going to hate it. but she was quite taken with it actually,” the director said. “I think that’s probably what motivated me to go give her a hug. It was just the relief of her actually liking the song.”
The writers changed some lyrics and enhanced some dance numbers to accommodate the cast
In addition to adding songs, lyrics were changed in a couple of others to better fit in with the actors. For example, Freedman shared that in “The Stepsister’s Lament,” there are lines about Cinderella being pale and having a “neck white as a swan’s.” That obviously doesn’t work with Brandy in the role, so they changed it.
“I never told anybody. I never got permission from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization,” he said. “We’re talking maybe three to four words at the most, but it was my secret.”
Also, in the song “In My Own Little Corner,” Cinderella sang about imagining herself as a “young Norwegian princess.” In the 1997 film, Norwood’s Cinderella sings about being an Egyptian princess.
The Jason Alexander number, “The Prince Is Giving A Ball,” was also enhanced to be the big dance number it came to be. Alexander’s Lionel needed a flashier scene than what the original had.
Overall, all of these little changes here and there made 1997’s Cinderella just as iconic as it is today.