Photo courtesy of Disney Television
Photo courtesy of Disney Television
Montalban & Brandy from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. |

“Doing ‘Cinderella’ opened a dear and close relationship with the African American community that I never would have had, and it’s really overwhelming.”

By Michael P Coleman

Once upon a time, back in 1997, word spread far and wide, throughout the kingdom. The prince was giving a ball!

Well, Disney was.

Relaunching their classic series The Wonderful World Of Disney, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella premiered almost 24 years ago on ABC. With Brandy making history in the title role and featuring an all-star cast including Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber, Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander, and Whitney Houston (who also served as executive producer), the Emmy winning event was a critical and ratings smash.

It was also a breakthrough for Paolo Montalban, a Filipino American actor who beat out over 800 other actors for the role of Prince Christopher.

With the launch of the new streaming service, Disney Plus, a few months ago, fans — many of whom had grown up watching a weathered and worn DVD of Cinderella — demanded the film be added to the platform. It debuted on Feb 12, and Montalban, a New Jersey-based actor, was shocked when he learned that a new generation of fans would get to enjoy the masterpiece.

“I just found out that it was going to be released on Disney Plus about a month ago,” Montalban, now 47, EXCLUSIVELY told me by phone. “That was a very emotional moment for me. I was blown away to hear that our Cinderella had stayed in the hearts and minds of the people who saw the first broadcast, and that they want to share it with their kids. When we made the movie, we didn’t even know that it would be released on VHS or DVD! We didn’t know that there would be something called the internet, with streaming abilities to allow for it to be encapsulated for all time, or at least for the foreseeable future.”

Fans looking for a crisply remastered, 4K version of Cinderella will be disappointed, as the film has been uploaded to Disney Plus in standard definition. Impossibly, that misstep doesn’t remotely diminish the movie’s magic. In addition to Montalban’s and Brandy’s star turns, Houston delivers the best acting performance of her career, and her voice, paired with Brandy’s on “Impossible” and closing the show solo with “There’s Music In You” are more than worth the price of “admission,” as it were.

It took every iota of will power that I could muster to keep me from fanning out during my conversation with Montalban. His performances of classic Rodgers & Hammerstein songs like “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” are stunning, and his lovestruck performance with the lovely Brandy, and the chemistry between the two, were critical to the film’s success.

When Montalban greets Brandy’s Cinderella at the base of that ballroom staircase, he had me at “Hello” — along with over 60 million other television viewers. And in a breathtaking twist to the typical telling of the timeless tale, Cinderella sweeps the prince off of his feet.

“In a way, Brandy was the royalty on set,” Montalban shared, “Maybe the shoe was on the other foot! She was the royal princess, already a star, and I was coming up from nowhere. I was a fish out of water during the whole process. Not the process of putting up a musical — I knew how to do that — but I didn’t know how to put up a movie, or work with celebrities, people who were at the top of their games. Jason and Whoopi killing the comedy game. Victor killing the TV and film game. Bernadette killing the musical comedy game.”

“I felt like the out of place one, and Brandy made me feel welcomed,” Montalban continued. “I really want to thank her for changing my life. Just by being who she is, the person who has worked her tail off since I’ve known her, young black women all over the world have a great mentor to look up to, and I get to be associated with her. That’s changed my life.”

Montalban’s portrayal of Prince Christopher was life changing, as well. My eldest daughter told me recently that she began looking at herself in the mirror differently after Montalban and Brandy danced around that ballroom in 1997. The production was groundbreaking in its multicultural casting, with nary an explanation, for example, of how Goldberg and Garber, in their roles as the queen and king, could be Montalban’s parents.

The actor insists that that was by design.

“To call out the differences consciously would have been a disservice to what our country and society is,” Montalban reflected. “It was no accident that there was no on-screen mention of that, or that the film included the assortment of people in a world that reflected what America looked like in 1997 — and what it looks like in 2021. Our film’s executive producers — Deborah Martin Chase, Neil Maron, Craig Zadan, and Whitney Houston — were the matriarchs and patriarchs of the film and they had their hands in every stage of the process, in every creative decision.”

“They were so committed to do Cinderella right, right up until the last moment of filming,” Montalban added. “The last scene that we shot was the wedding. It was the only time that we had that many extras on set. The producers found themselves going into overtime, and they ran out of money to pay the extras. It’s nothing against Disney or ABC: it’s show business, and a budget is a budget. To pay the extras for that last day, our executive producers wrote checks out of their pockets. That reflected the level of belief and faith that they had in our cast and that production. They believed in it, and they wanted to do it right.”

A lot of people wanted to “do” Cinderella, and specifically, play the coveted role of Prince Christopher. Montalban reportedly beat out several up-and-comers for the role, including Taye Diggs, Marc Anthony, and Wayne Brady.

Montalban was too much of a gentleman to reference his competition for the role by name, but he shared a story about one would-be prince who still held a grudge years after Cinderella had been shot.

“I got to meet one of those actors at a celebrity event,” Montalban confided of his royal competition. “He actually went to school with a buddy of mine in Orlando. He’s very rich and very funny.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Wayne Brady is from Orlando. He’s also very rich and very funny. IJS]

“He said ‘You know? I’m still mad at you for beating me out for that role! I have a bone to pick with you!’ “

I’m not mad at Brady. I wanted to sing “Ten Minutes Ago” with Brandy, too!

After Montalban’s star making turn in Cinderella, he reprised the role onstage for years. He also starred on the TV series Mortal Kombat: Conquest, and has been working as an actor in the years since.

By phone from his home in New Jersey, Montalban was as accessible, honest, funny, smart, and…well, charming as you’d want a prince to be! He was also tremendously moving, and even got a little emotional as he talked about his relationship with the black community that came as a result of Cinderella.

“Doing that movie opened a dear and close relationship with the African American community that I would never have had, and I had a great relationship with my black friends growing up,” Montalban shared. “I grew up in Jersey City — white people were the minority! My roommate and best friend in college was African American.”

Montalban got choked up just then, and had to pause the interview as he wiped away a tear before continuing.

“But to be able to reach out to a community that has been so vocal about it over the years, and has come up to me and embraced me in person, has been really overwhelming…to receive that kind of love and support.”

Oh, we love you, Paolo. Thanks to you and Brandy for giving us a prince and princess in whom we could see a bit of ourselves.

Follow Paolo Montalban on IG and Twitter. And get info on his new film, The Girl Who Left Home, at

Michael P Coleman is a Sacramento based freelance writer who has his eye on the Pulitzer Prize.  Connect with him at or  follow his blog, his IG and his Twitter







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