Exclusive! Cinderella’s Prince, Paolo Montalban, Reflects On The Groundbreaking Musical’s Twenty-fifth Anniversary

ABC is airing a reunion special, featuring many of the surviving cast, on August 23, followed by the first rebroadcast of the musical in over 20 years.

By Michael P Coleman

Once upon a time, on a chilly Sunday night in November. Disney and ABC did something that hadn’t been done in the over 350 years since the fairy tale “Cinderella” had been written. They put a glass slipper on a black girl and let her find her prince, and over 60 million people tuned in to see it.

“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” debuted in November of 1997, as ABC relaunched its classic “The Wonderful World Of Disney.” Brandy, Whitney Houston, and an all-star, multicultural cast made history.

Clearly, representation mattered 25 years ago. ABC / Disney are betting it still does.

On August 23, ABC is rounding up many of the surviving members of that stellar cast for an primetime reunion, followed by the first broadcast airing of the groundbreaking special in over 20 years.

At least one of “Cinderella”’s cast is hoping that history will be made again.

“I have no idea how that works,” Paolo Montalban, Cinderella’s prince, told me by phone late last week, as we pondered what “Cinderella”’s ratings might look like. “Let’s see if we can repeat history.”

During our EXCLUSIVE chat, Montalban told me that he’s most excited about “Cinderella” being introduced to a whole new generation.

“It all happened pretty quickly, but I’m feeling good about it,” Montalban shared. “I’m most excited about it being rebroadcast on its original network, after the [reunion] special. It’s nice to have it back on free TV, just for that one special night. I hope it brings families together, or friends together, or generations together, maybe creating an opportunity to introduce it to kids who haven’t seen it before.”

If you’ve not yet seen “Cinderella,” it’s a spectacle. The lavish sets and costumes are breathtaking. And speaking of breath, you’ll be holding yours right along with Montalban’s Prince as Brandy’s descends that staircase before she and the prince sweep each other off of their feet.

Their chemistry was off the charts!

Montalban, Brandy, and Houston, along with Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, Victor Garber, Jason Alexander and others literally changed the face of television that night in 1997…or at the very least, they changed its complexion.

Cast with the Filipino Montalban, Brandy was the world’s first African American princess, paving the way for 2009’s “The Frog Princess,” starring Anika Noni Rose, and next year’s live action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” starring Halle Bailey as Ariel.

The R & B and TV star nailed the complex Rodgers & Hammerstein tunes. By the time she and Montalban sing “Ten Minutes Ago,” you’ll be all caught up in it. And Brandy and Houston duetting on “Impossible” is a must-hear. Brandy hung in there with “The Voice!”

Shockingly, although an initial VHS release of “Cinderella” broke records by selling over 1 million copies in one week in February of 1998, an official soundtrack album for the musical was never issued. Montalban confirmed that politics between Brandy’s and Houston’s record labels kept it from being released, which Houston once said was her biggest heartbreak.

But with interest in the film never waning, and in fact increasing since Disney added the film to their streaming platform, Disney+, last year, now’s the perfect time to issue it. If the Houston estate can finance and trot out a Houston hologram show, they ought to be able to get clearance for a “Cinderella” soundtrack album, especially with the film having presumably been remastered for the August 23 broadcast.

In fact, I’m going to call it: I think at the conclusion of Tuesday night’s broadcast, Disney will announce the release of the soundtrack album on digital and, maybe, CD, for those of us who were there in 1997 and still like our liner notes and jewel boxes.

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. After all, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother taught us that…

Impossible things are happening everyday!

“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” airs Tuesday, August 23 at 9pm, just after a 25th anniversary reunion special airs, on ABC. The reunion special will stream the next day on Hulu. “Cinderella” is currently streaming on Disney+.

Read my 2021 features on Montalban and the musical’s director, Robert Iscove.


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