No praise sounds as medicinal as "fun for the whole family. " But at 8 p.m. tomorrow, KCTS-TV recoups the squandered joy of that description with a special presentation of the...

Share story

No praise sounds as medicinal as “fun for the whole family.” But at 8 p.m. tomorrow, KCTS-TV recoups the squandered joy of that description with a special presentation of the incandescent 1957 musical “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”

Not seen since its original presentation, “Cinderella” is a reminder of the heights to which TV aspired in its infancy. The show was made for television by musical theater’s greatest team and stars a 22-year-old Julie Andrews, fresh from “My Fair Lady.”

Most Read Stories

Cyber Sale! Save 90% on digital access.

Circumstances alone would herald its return. The night it debuted, the show captured 107 million viewers — the biggest audience for a program up to that time. Then the original vanished into legal limbo, although remakes aired in 1965 and 1997.

The happy news is that viewers won’t have to rely on nostalgia or be Rodgers & Hammerstein buffs. “Cinderella” offers an evergreen blend of charm, sophistication and humor that will appeal to kids from 1 to 92, despite being shot in black-and-white and utterly lacking today’s whiz-bang special effects.

It also possesses a refreshingly grounded sensibility. Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the book as well as the lyrics, and the result is a fairy tale shot through with common sense and earthy skepticism.

When Cinderella (Andrews) is visited by her Fairy Godmother (Edith Adams), the young woman ponders whether dreams ever come true.

“Well, I wouldn’t say never. I’d say seldom,” replies Fairy Godmother. She then expostulates on the dangers of such elements as fairy godmothers. “You get to rely on them too much.”

The message — indeed, the heart of the story — is that a leap of faith begins from a solid launching pad. When Cinderella becomes a princess with her coach and white horses, her transformation is wrought as much by personal conviction as random beneficence.

It’s a healthy sensibility to bestow on today’s kids, targets of a magic-wand culture where Wal-Mart becomes the Fairy Godmother stand-in who solves everything.

Indeed, the Fairy Godmother herself is a remarkably attractive, woman-of-the-world type; more like a sophisticated aunt who takes you to lunch and gives smart advice.

This is not to say that “Cinderella” lacks magic. On the contrary, it’s shot through with the soaring emotional sorcery provided by two master songwriters who use their words and music to usher us from one pivotal moment to another.

Among the classics are “In My Own Little Corner”and the irresistible waltz “Ten Minutes Ago I Saw You,” lofted by the combined talents of Andrews and her prince, then-newcomer Jon Cypher (later Chief Daniels in “Hill Street Blues”).

As with many Rodgers & Hammerstein ballads, these lovely tunes have minor chords and lyrics posed as questions — shading that lends psychological realism and reinforces the idea that life is bumpy.

The supporting cast also has remarkable depth and maturity, drawing on a string of theater veterans who graced the stage in the mid-’50s: Ilka Chase, Alice Ghostley and the redoubtable Kaye Ballard as the Stepmother and Stepsisters, and Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney as the droll King and Queen.

Julie Andrews is a surprisingly confident and mature Cinderella, which may not conform to more recent tradition. I like it. It’s a gratifying change from all the bland, borderline jail-bait Cinderellas that grace more Disneyesque productions.

The Prince also is a real man instead of a baby-faced juvenile — an approach purely intentional. As Cypher relates in a new series of new interviews that “Great Performances” airs between acts of “Cinderella,” he was trained as a method actor and somewhat incongruously toted along his technique.

This is great background information, as are the commentaries provided by Ballard, Adams and others. Nevertheless, they get in the way of the show’s pleasure and really should have been packaged at the end. That’s about the only stumble in an entrancing 90 minutes.

TV note: KCPQ-TV’s “Yule Log” will be a-burnin’ from 6:30 to 9 a.m. Christmas morning. Traditionalists may sniff, but we think it beats the heck out of setting fire to the living room rug.