BWW Interview: Zina Ellis Sees Impossible Things Happening in CINDERELLA at the Fox Theatre
"Impossible things are happening every day," or at least they are for Zina Ellis.
This weekend as RODGERS + HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA plays at the Fox Theatre, Atlanta audiences will get to experience a full circle moment for the actress as she portrays the role of Marie, aka the fairy godmother. Having grown up watching the Brandy and Whitney Houston film on VHS, Ellis says being in this tour has been surreal. Below, check out what the performer has to say about her first ever national tour, embracing a timeless score, and being a force of positivity on stage.
We're excited to have the CINDERELLA tour in Atlanta! How has the tour overall been so far?
It's been going very well! We spent most of the winter in very cold places, so we're glad to be down in the South where it's warm and kind of sunny [laughs].
So tell my readers how you play into the story of CINDERELLA.
I play the fairy godmother who kind of starts off the show in disguise. She looks like the local beggar woman and then has this magical transformation which is a lot of fun to do. She's sort of an old friend of Cinderella, and I think she sees something really special in her. So when the prince comes to town, Marie is like, "Oh, now is the time! Let's make some magic happen!"
And how has it been for you getting to be the fairy godmother?
It's so much fun. It's so fun and exciting to get to play a character who's such a force of positivity and encouragement in the show. That's something I try to do in my own life, and it's a lot of fun to get to sort of represent that almost every night on stage.
What kind of responses do you get from the audiences?
We tend to get a good amount of applause for the magic, which is really nice. But I also love a gasp or an awed silence. [laughs] Whatever they've got for us, I'm glad to hear it! A lot of the time when we've got adults who have seen a lot of shows, they know to clap, but sometimes especially when there are a lot of kids in the audience, it's kind of quiet, and we sometimes are scared that people aren't liking it. But once the lights come up, you see it's a lot of little hands that just can't clap very loud. And I'm sure they had a great time! They're pretty quiet, although sometimes they talk back to us. It's very cute! Sometimes kids will ask me after the show if I can do magic for them, but I usually say that I used it all up inside the theatre during the show. And a lot of kids come dressed up as Cinderella, which we love.
What's it like to get to do such a timeless show by such a legendary Broadway team?
It's so much fun! I love it a lot. Just beautiful, beautiful music that's so fun to sing and it's all sort of poetic, and the melodies are really lush. It's really exciting to work on a piece whose songs have lasted this long and mean a lot to people and will hopefully continue to mean a lot to another generation.
So what's your favorite part of the show?
My favorite part of the show that I'm in is "Impossible," because that's where all the magic starts. I also really love to watch "The Pursuit," which is when Cinderella's leaving the ball, and the prince is trying to chase after her through the forest, it's sort of the backwards transformation after it strikes midnight, and Cinderella is trying to get home before her clothes turn back into rags. There's a dance sequence that I love.
So what's been surprising to you about being in this show in this role?
I think, something that makes me really happy is you assume that younger kids will enjoy the show and get a lot out of it, but it's exciting for me to talk to people my own age and even older about how much the positive messages of the show speak to them and encourage them. It's really heartwarming to hear them say, "I was having a really hard time at work, but that line you said really reminded me that just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's not worth doing." It's all about believing in yourself, being kind to others, paying it forward. All of the good things that you want people to feel, I think, are wrapped up in this show.
And how has playing this role affected you?
Well I grew up watching the Brandy and Whitney Houston version of CINDERELLA, the video cassette, so it's sort of wild to be a part of that world. And it's also my first national tour which is really exciting just to get to travel around and bring this story to so many people and get to see lots of different parts of the country and get to see friends and family who are everywhere. That's the joy of doing this show. And of course the cast is incredible. Everyone is so nice! And specifically in this show, it is kind of a full-circle moment for me having grown up watching this, loving this musical, and then getting to be a part of it is really cool.
And how has this character affected you as an actor?
Being in the same show for six months is definitely a huge learning experience, and I'm getting to figure out how I keep fresh from show to show, how I take care of myself and stay healthy, and also just just getting used to a lot of the challenges of being on the road. But also there's the fun of being on the road and trying to do as much sightseeing as I can, but also get enough sleep! There's lots and lots of things going on. [squealing heard in the background] Sorry, I'm a little bit distracted right now because one of our understudies, Beth Anderson, is going on tonight for Gabrielle. She just got the call, so everyone's excited!
Oh that's awesome! Tell her break a leg! Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers today?
Just that we're really excited to be in Atlanta, that there's something for all ages in this show and that we hope they leave the theatre lifted up and excited about their own life.
Zina Ellis (Marie) is thrilled to make her national tour debut with the Cinderella team! Favorite credits include Rona Lisa Peretti in ... Spelling Bee, Claire in Ordinary Days and Phoebe Meryll in The Yeomen of the Guard. B.A. Yale University. Zinaellis.com
RODGERS + HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA will play at the Fox Theatre through April 7. Tickets start at $34 and are available by visiting FoxTheatre.org/Cinderella, by calling 1-855-285-8499, or by visiting the Fox Theatre Box Office (660 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta GA 30308). Group orders of 10 or more may be placed by calling 404-881-2000.
With its fresh new take on the beloved tale of a young woman who is transformed from a chambermaid into a princess, this hilarious and romantic Rodgers + Hammerstein's CINDERELLA combines the story's classic elements - glass slippers, pumpkin, and a beautiful ball along with some surprising twists. More than just a pretty face with the right shoe size, this Cinderella is a contemporary figure living in a fairytale setting. She is a spirited young woman with savvy and soul who doesn't let her rags or her gowns trip her up in her quest for kindness, compassion and forgiveness.