Over 100 million viewers welcomed Julie Andrews into their homes for the live CBS premiere of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” in 1957. It was a record-breaking feat for the musical theater writing team’s only piece produced exclusively for television.
The production would go on to spark multiple onscreen revivals, like 1997’s Brandy and Whitney Houston-led cult classic, and it would ultimately venture to the stage. It wasn’t until 2013 that the show would find its way to Broadway, however, where its stage revival garnered nine Tony Award nominations—winning one of those for best costume design and launching multiple national tours in the process.The celebrated adaptation features Rodgers’ music, Hammerstein’s lyrics and a book by Douglas Carter Beane. The playwright and screenwriter’s notable works include “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar” for the screen and the musical version of “Xanadu” for the stage.
Now, presented through a special arrangement with R & H Theatricals, Tampa Bay can venture to the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson for a little magic before midnight. The “Broadway on the Gulf” production is currently playing until Feb. 24.
It’s “the Tony Award-winning musical that’s delighting audiences with its surprisingly contemporary take on the classic tale,” Show Palace officially describes the piece. “This lush production features jaw-dropping transformations and all the moments you love—the pumpkin, the glass slipper, the masked ball and more—plus some surprising new twists!”
Those twists include Tampa Bay fan favorite actor Jay Goldberg, who dons full drag to transform into Cinderella’s stepsister Charlotte. The Watermark WAVE Award-winning actor, who has been performing for 23 years, is currently in his fifth season with Show Palace.
“It’s not going to be the same production that people have already seen,” he says. “We’re telling a different story. A lot of people think with a production of ‘Cinderella’ that if you’ve seen one version, you’ve seen them all—but like a human, a show matures. A show grows up with the times.”
While its titular character is still a young woman forced into servitude by her stepmother, one who gets an impossible helping hand from her fairy godmother, the show’s growth is evident in its political undertones. “It’s definitely not your Disney fairytale,” Goldberg explains. “It has a modern script.”
He says that the revival’s prince is misguided and advised by a new character, Lord Chancellor Sebastian. “He’s persuading him to lead a corrupt government,” he says, “and not to help the needy and poor. It’s Cinderella who comes in and teaches him that his people do need his help.
“She completely changes his mind in the way he rules the kingdom,” Goldberg adds. “To me, Cinderella is the hero in this version. She’s the one who changes the prince’s outlook on life.”
While Cinderella is the hero, he says there are multiple villains. “Sebastian uses propaganda and dishonesty to try and keep the prince isolated,” Goldberg says, “and of course we have Madame, the stepmother, and she’s selfish and the epitome of vanity and fashion.”
Then there’s his character, a real drag. “She likes to be the center of attention and she’ll do anything that she needs to do to become that center of attention,” Goldberg says. “She thinks she’s a gorgeous bombshell when in fact she’s the complete opposite. She’s the only one who thinks she’s the hottest thing since sliced bread. Not even her mother—who she wants to be just like, in her evil kind of way—thinks that of her.”
While the actor has portrayed female roles in productions of “Hairspray” and “Chicago,” he says those characters were more developed. “She’s a completely different character than I’ve ever played before.There was a lot that I had to create with Charlotte,” Goldberg explains. “I had to make her who she is, and ultimately it didn’t come together until I put the makeup and the wig on to get a final look at who she was going to be.”
“It’s hard being a woman four days a week,” he adds. “There’s a lot that goes into being this woman.”
The actor says he and the show’s director Jonathan Van Dyke spent a great deal of time developing Charlotte’s mannerisms and motivations. “It was a lot of trying to figure out how to build her from the ground up,” he says. “A lot of long nights at home staring in the mirror, making facial expressions, trying to figure out her posture while wearing this tacky dress and these heels.”
He also watched a lot of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” he laughs, and did a little soul searching.
“I think for me what I was trying to do was create the bitchiness when really all I had to do was just look deep down inside of me,” Goldberg muses. “I know there are times where I can be that person, so life imitates art. I just really had to dig down deep within myself to find my bitchy side. I give some bitchy looks that every drag queen knows.”
Goldberg sees Charlotte as a comedic character, something he plays best. “I’m a character actor,” he explains. “She definitely has an evilness to her, but even that comes off as funny. Just like her mother, she doesn’t want Cinderella to succeed in anything that she does. She wants everything to be about her.”
More than comedy, he notes, the production has heart. “Cinderella is a story about love, acceptance and conquering evil,” he explains. “In the end, love always wins—and as an LGBTQ+ community, we know how it feels to want to be accepted, find true love and defeat all of the hate out there. It’s relatable.”
Besides, he chuckles, “who doesn’t love a drag queen?”
“Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” plays now through Feb. 24 at Show Palace Dinner Theatre, located at 16128 U.S. Highway 19 in Hudson, Fla. Individual dinner and show tickets are $55.50. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 727-863-7949 or visit ShowPalace.net.