The 1997 cinematic masterpiece that is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is officially coming to Disney+ for your viewing pleasure on Friday 12. As the world tunes in for the fan favorite project, Brandy Norwood is reminiscing on how the experience changed her life — specifically her relationship with the late great Whitney Houston.
Brandy was cast in the lead role of Cinderella in the 1997 film, adapted from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of the same name, and the R&B singer was personally scouted by Whitney herself. Only 18 years old at the time but already seeing massive success as a singer and actress (Thea, Moesha), Brandy was handpicked by Whitney after the music icon turned down the lead role.
What followed was a magical experience for everyone involved, a project that the would stay with Brandy forever because it allowed her to be her own kind of princess without having to change a thing. Under Whitney's watch, she became pop culture's first Black princess — talking the way she wanted to, singing the way she wanted to (with some personal guidance from Whitney, of course), and even wearing her hair the way she wanted to.
"Whitney’s whole thing with me was to just be myself," Brandy told Vulture of her co-star and producer. "She loved that I could be myself, and she didn’t want that part of me to change. Her being a legend and having been through so much in life and experiences in this industry, she wanted me to stay on the path of being who I am and true to myself. That was what she preached all the time to me up until she passed away. So I keep that and I try to live by that every day. That’s what I teach my daughter as well."
"Her energy was very down to earth, loving," Brandy continued. "Her spirit was humble...She was just Fairy Godmother doing her acting and singing with all of us."
The close bond forged between Whitney and Brandy — whose dreams of making music as a child were heavily influenced by the "I Have Nothing" singer — lasted for years after the release of Cinderella, as did the film's impact on pop culture. To this day, it's still widely considered the best take on the classic fairy tale. From its racially diverse cast (Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber, Paolo Montalban, Bernadette Peters, and Natalie Desselle Reid also starred) to its beautifully performed musical numbers and glamorous full sets, the film captured the essence of the story better than most of its modern versions ever could.
Now that Disney has acquired the license to stream the beloved film on its platform, Brandy hopes that the (Black girl) magic of Cinderella will live on for the younger generation, especially for people who may not have had the pleasure of growing up with Whitney like so many of us did before she passed away in 2012. Though the work is fiction, the icon's glow isn't scripted — she was real life magic.
"What I love about this film, Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, is that we're gonna see her in this enchanting light," Brandy told ET of the late singer. "This is how we need to see her...her voice, her talent, her vision for, not just me, but this entire cast and bringing this whole film to life, it's unforgettable."