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Tug at my 1990s heartstrings, why don't you? It doesn’t get much better than the 1997 TV movie adaptation of the iconic Rodger & Hammerstein musical Cinderella being introduced to new viewers, or reintroduced to the old heads. Prior to the film's arrival on Disney+ tonight, a virtually-reunited cast shared memories about the late (and great) Whitney Houston and Natalie Desselle-Reid.
Sitting down at the virtual cast reunion moderated by Entertainment Weekly, everyone from Brandy to Jason Alexander recalled nothing but fond and special memories of Whitney Houston, who died in 2012, and Natalie Desselle-Reid, who passed away last year. The cast shared what it was like collaborating with Houston, who executive produced the film and starred as the Fairy Godmother, as well as meeting and working with Desselle-Reid at the time. Brandy, who played Cinderella herself, had particular memories of working with Whitney Houston, who she called “my idol, my angel.” Brandy continued:
She had a magic about her that I felt like I could just be myself. When you're working with your idols, you don't know how to act, but she made me feel safe to be myself and really give the character all I could give.I was in awe of her in every scene, every scene I did with her, I just love just working with her very professional, on point, but loving and just, she just really adored me and took me under her wing.
Seinfeld star Jason Alexander, who played Lionel in the film, remembered the dynamic between Whitney Houston and Brandy. He even shared that during rehearsal, Houston was surprised by Brandy fangirling over her vocals in the studio, saying Houston “really didn't know it owned.”
In the film, actress Veanne Cox and co-star Natalie Desselle-Reid nailed their kooky and jealous stepsister personas with exaggerated pomp. The two ended up developing a close bond. Cox reflected:
I met her in the audition. We went into the audition room together and we fell in love from the moment we met. And it was, there was never a challenge with her to make something funny. She was this naturally hilarious human being, both onscreen and off.
Jason Alexander chimed in how Bernadette Peters, Veanne Cox and Natalie Desselle-Reid as the stepmother and two stepsisters were a force to be reckoned with. He stated that the actresses were a “great little comic trio” with “very natural chemistry.”
At the time 1997's Cinderella was released, critics were divided on the film for it’s over-the-top costumes, sets and acting. This didn't stop the film from receiving a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction. Eventually, the film garnered a cult following that lasts to this day.
The film survived obscurity directly because of Whitney Houston believing in the project so much. Her mentorship to Brandy on set is magical to still see and hear, and the color-blind casting set the trend for countless Victorian remakes and historical series today. From Roger & Hammerstein's Cinderella – eat your heart out, Bridgerton.