BWW Review: Yes, It's Enchanting! ELLA ENCHANTED at Adventure Theatre
I can't resist: if you want to be thoroughly "enchanted," get thyself to Glen Echo Park (a worthwhile destination for many reasons), for the venerable Adventure Theatre's charming production (a co-commission with First Stage, Milwaukee, WI) of Ella Enchanted, a world premiere musical based on the beloved book by Gail Carson Levine. This stage adaptation, from gifted and celebrated playwright Karen Zacarias and composer Deborah Wicks La Puma, is an hour of delight for all ages. A twist on the classic Cinderella, this Ella has a fairy godmother from birth, who bestows the gift of obedience on her in response to Ella's nonstop wailing. Her mother realizes the burden this will become, and works with young Ella to help her learn to resist the curse, to no avail. The curse is kept secret so as not to give people in Ella's life a way to control and take advantage of her, but Ella's stepsisters discover her secret, and calamities abound. Her friendship with the gallant and down-to-earth Prince Char, over time, helps Ella's confidence in herself and ability to appreciate her own unique gifts.
Zacarias's book is admirably balanced between humor and pathos. I found myself marveling at what a light touch she has with the story's wonderful messages: learning to communicate with one another, appreciating the differences, being true to oneself, exploring the world, never giving up. I particularly loved that the story celebrates Ella's friendship with Prince Char, and how much they appreciate each other as people, rather than emphasizing a romance based on physical attraction. What a testament to how well the storytelling is working to glance at the youngest audience members' faces during the show, and see them rapt. The range of ages was from toddler to grandparent, and everyone seemed involved and entertained.
I don't want to give away some of the treats in store for you in the show, but suffice it to say that there are some productions that reinforce the importance of a creative synergy to the success of the storytelling. Ella is one of those. There is a seamless connection between the book, music, set, staging, costumes and impressive cast. And the effective use of the wonderfully intimate space impressed upon me the talent of this team. A small theater works wonders with children, who are more easily involved when they are close to the action and distractions are minimized.
Special cast mention goes to the appealing Malinda Kathleen Reese as Ella, Simone Lewis (devilishly evil) and Shanta Parasuraman (amusingly dim) as her tormenting stepsisters, and especially, the marvelous Lara Zinn as Lucinda, the thorn of a fairy godmother, who comes back to help save the day, and improve her godmother-ly skills at the same time.
Directed by Mary Hall Surface, Ella Enchanted is part of Adventure Theatre's 65th season, shepherded by veteran Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt (who choreographed Ella) and impressive by any measure, especially for a theatre that is dedicated to inspiring a love of theater and the arts in children. Ella Enchanted is a great example of a show that will not only delight your young friends, but will remind you of just how necessary storytelling and imagination are to a good life.
For more information and tickets visit http://www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org/seeashow/professional/nowshowing.html
For more information about the many things to do at Glen Echo visit http://glenechopark.org
All photos by Sarah Straub