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Watching the restored program, one is amazed at how smoothly and effortlessly the whole production runs. Rarely content to let one camera cover a scene in toto, the director Ralph Nelson captures the action from various positions and heights. The delightful "Stepsisters' Lament" is played directly to one camera as the two sisters confide in the audience and is very theatrical. But most of the time Nelson chooses to cut back and forth from camera to camera, something rather routine on film with postproduction editing, but very tricky on live television. He shot the wistful "In My Own Little Corner" in a variety of ways, turning the cramped corner of the room into exotic places in the heroine's imagination. Because no one setting could be very large, the ballroom is uncomfortably narrow and the village square is rather tight. But this doesn't seem to hinder the direction or the lively dances staged by Jonathan Lucas.

But there is so much more to "Cinderella" than camera angles and sets. Hammerstein's script is a marvelous piece of romanticism. He downplays the fantasy elements of the old story (this godmother seems more like a caring relative than a fairy) and goes for the honesty of the characters, never talking down to his audience even in the context of a children's story. He also avoids stock villains, turning the Stepmother and Stepsisters into funny, self-absorbed brats rather than vicious antagonists. Hammerstein gives the Prince, always the least interesting character in the tale, a sincere and thoughtful persona. This Cinderella is not a weepy, put-upon girl but a forthright and level-headed heroine, and Andrews plays her with nonsensical charm. The cast is superb, down to the most minor role, and the unfussy direction gives the show a straightforward and matter-of-fact confidence that most family entertainment lacks.

As for the songs, has ever a television show introduced so many delectable numbers? "Ten Minutes Ago I Saw You" and "A Lovely Night" are rhapsodic without being mushy, "Impossible" creates its own kind of magic, and the aforementioned "Stepsisters' Lament" and "My Own Little Corner" are each as fine a character song as Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote. The most musically complex number in the score is the quartet "When You're Driving Through the Moonlight," in which Cinderella and her family recall the previous night, each member seeing the evening in her own imaginative way and getting caught up in it all over again.

"Cinderella" was written, scored, and produced for one magic night. But, as this restored version proves, it was really for all time.

Top banner photos: Jon Cypher as the Prince (CBS Photo Archives), a scene from the ball (Photofest), and Julie Andrews as Cinderella (CBS Photo Archives).

Ilka Chase, Kaye Ballard, and Alice Ghostley

Cinderella's stepmother (Ilka Chase) with her stepsisters, Portia (Kaye Ballard) and Joy (Alice Ghostley).

Julie Andrews

Julie Andrews took a short break from her role in "My Fair Lady" on Broadway to appear in this television broadcast.

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The DVD is available.