Whitney Houston famously stepped away from playing the title role in the 1997 film, choosing Brandy to instead become the beloved character

By Lindsay Kimble
February 11, 2021 11:10 AM
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Nearly 24 years after first slipping on the glass slippers, Brandy is taking a waltz down memory lane as Disney+ releases Walt Disney Television's iconic 1997 movie musical Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella.

"It's enchanting, it's magical, it is an amazing cast — people that [viewers] probably know, and the music will change your life," Brandy tells PEOPLE ahead of the film's Friday streaming debut. "And I feel like everybody that sees it will come away inspired, will come away happy and joyful. And I just hope that for everyone, because right now we need it more."

In the musical, which aired on ABC in 1997 to 60 million viewers, Brandy takes on the title role of Cinderella. The singer and actress made history as the first Black woman to play the character on the screen in a production that employed colorblind casting years before Hamilton followed suit on Broadway.

The diverse cast was rounded out by Whitney Houston as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, Whoopi Goldberg as Queen Constantina, Victor Garber as King Maximillian, Bernadette Peters as Stepmother, Paolo Montalbán as the Prince and Jason Alexander as Lionel, the King's counsel.

Brandy and Whitney Houston in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella
| Credit: Walt Disney Television / Courtesy: Everett

Now, Brandy reflects fondly on working with Houston, who tragically died in 2012 at age 48.

"It was a collaborative thing, and what I loved about working with her is that I was allowed to contribute, I was allowed to be myself," the 42-year-old says. "And then I was allowed to get all the pointers from her that I could soak in."

Brandy and Whitney Houston in the 1997 film
| Credit: Walt Disney Television/Everett

She continues, "We had some beautiful, funny moments that I can remember forever. She's really my angel, and I'm just so appreciative to her for this opportunity."

According to a Shondaland oral history of the production from 2017, Houston was originally set to take on the title role but stepped aside to help herald Brandy, then a budding star.

"I remember her saying that, 'Girl, I'm 33. I'm not going to be playing that Cinderella. I'll be a fairy godmother,' " recounts the singer and actress of Houston. "I said, 'If you promise to be my fairy godmother, I would love to play Cinderella.' "

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Brandy, who was only a teen at the time of the film's release, says she was "blown away" by the star power in the cast, calling her costars her "childhood idols."

"Bernadette Peters, this is the idol who stole Annie, Miss Hannigan," she says. "You know what I mean? I just loved Bernadette Peters, and loved Whoopi Goldberg and everything that she did, from Sister Act to Sister Act 2, everything, Color Purple, everything. I was like, 'Oh my God, these are the people that I … And I'm right here with them?' "

She continues, "It was mind-blowing, even though I had been around different celebrities before, but these particular ones touched me in different ways that I never would have thought that I would have worked with them. And it was just magical."

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella will join the "Celebrate Black Stories" collection on Disney+ alongside SoulBlack Is KingBlack PantherHidden Figures, and others.

It will be available to stream at the stroke of midnight on Friday.