“Cinderella” runs Nov. 3-8 at the Fox Theatre.
DAY AFTER DAY, in city after city, falling in love for the first time comes easily to Andy Huntington Jones.
Jones plays Prince Topher in the national tour of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella and estimates that he’s waltzed, galloped and swooned some 400 times and counting.
On Broadway, he understudied Santino Fontana, who earned a 2013 Tony Award nomination for the role. During that nearly two-year run, Fontana was often away recording and promoting a little movie called Frozen, in which he voiced Prince Hans. That meant Andy Jones went on dozens of times.
“I got to play Prince Topher on the night when the Tony nominations had just been announced,” he recalls, “so all the important people connected with the show came back that night.” (R+H’s Cinderella received nine nominations, winning for William Ivey Long’s costumes.)
What makes it easy for Jones to sell his “I’m-so-totally-smitten” act to each new audience? The score, he says.
“Richard Rodgers’ music is so incredibly romantic, expansive and lush, it makes falling in love easy. We all know how it feels to see someone and have butterflies in your stomach. Well, Richard Rodgers knew what that sounds like, and he wrote it into this show.”
Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics also nudge Jones in a lovey-dovey direction, especially in “Ten Minutes Ago,” the song he sings shortly after meeting Cinderella:
Ten minutes Ago I saw you/ I looked up when you came through the door/ My head started reeling, you gave me the feeling/ The room had no ceiling or floor …
“It’s made my life easier,” he says, “to have this beautiful score supporting this great love story.”
As seen on TV
Depending on your age, your first exposure to Cinderella’s melodies likely came on television. The show is, in fact, the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical specifically written for TV.
On March 31, 1957, more than 107 million people tuned in to watch a 21-year-old Julie Andrews in the title role. Lesley Ann Warren played Cinderella in a 1965 TV version that aired for many years, and pop singer Brandy played the role in 1997, with Whitney Houston as her Fairy Godmother and Broadway’s Bernadette Peters as her evil stepmother.
Jones, 26, remembers the Brandy version. He grew up in a musical family in Swampscott, Mass., and earned a degree in musical theater from the University of Michigan. In college, he played Cinderella’s Prince in Into the Woods.
This new production introduces a book by Douglas Carter Beane that updates the story, language and sensibilities.
“It’s full of wit and humor,” Jones says, thankful that he’s no longer required to wear white tights. The prince “is no longer just charming, no longer just a stick-figure archetype; he’s a real and relatable guy who’s struggling to be a king. He’s desperately trying to figure out both how to do his job and what’s right for his country.”
Audience members expecting a “saccharine-sweet fairy tale” encounter, instead, “a story with a sense of humor that’s sardonic at times,” Jones says. “Beane’s script resonates, makes them sit up and want to listen.”
The actor-who’d-be-prince also likes that it celebrates the idea that “through kindness, everything is possible. To me, there’s something so amazing about this huge production where the main grain of truth is: Be nice to people.”
He also thinks the relationship between Topher and Ella, as Cinderella is called, can inspire young people today. “They make each other better,” Jones says, “which is what true love should do.”
Romance in the air
If it sounds like he knows a thing or two about romantic success today, he does.
Jones recently proposed to Audrey Cardwell, who’s in the ensemble. They met five years ago doing The Sound of Music, and she played Cinderella to his Prince for several months.
“Before I proposed for real,” he says, “I had already proposed to her about a hundred times onstage. When I actually did do it, I went in the opposite direction of a princely proposal. We were at her family’s house in Birmingham [Ala.] and I waited for us to be in pajamas, then I basically asked her if there might be any champagne in the house. I wasn’t nervous, but I was less smooth than I expected to be.”
They are to be married in Birmingham, just days before their Cinderella arrives in Atlanta.