BWW Review: EVER AFTER Makes a Shaky Venture to Broadway via Atlanta's Alliance Theatre
Broadway has come back to Atlanta for another screen-to-stage musical eying a run on the Great White Way. Presented by the Tony Award-winning Alliance Theatre as the first show in their lavish, newly renovated Coca Cola Stage, EVER AFTER takes its second crack at a pre-Broadway tryout, following its 2015 Paper Mill Playhouse run.
Based on the 1998 film of the same name starring Drew Barrymore, EVER AFTER sees Danielle de Barbarac (Broadway star Sierra Boggess) become a servant in her own house following her father's death and step-family's rise to evil.
And then there's Prince "Being Royal is Hard" Henry (Tim Rogan). He is the most eligible, albeit disinterested bachelor in the French court, but his parents arrange a sudden marriage to "The Poodle" Princess of Spain against his wishes. Never fear- apparently the alliance with Spain is easy enough to form without loveless matrimony, so King Francis tells Henry he can marry someone else if he falls in love in the next five days. To that, the mystical forces of true love say, "Challenge accepted" and arrange serendipitous meetings between Henry and Danielle. He is instantly intrigued by her, but she runs away before he can get her name.
Like the movie, this take on Cinderella replaces the mooning damsel in distress with a resilient woman who can take care of herself and insists she does not want to fall in love. This production carries its aversion to fairy tale stereotypes like a torch. The mutual love-at-first-sight trope typical of fairy tales is replaced with a less abrupt, "Guy likes girl, girl tells him to get lost but eventually falls in love," a la romantic comedies.
While it successfully goes against every fairy tale antic- and painstakingly spells it out just in case you missed it (like when Leonardo da Vinci reprimands Gustave for calling EVER AFTER a fairy tale though it has no fairies- we see what you did there)- the book self-righteously demonstrates point for point how these characters operate with completely 21st-century political correctness rather than 1500s barbarism.
Composed by Zina Goldrich, the score has a classic Broadway style a la Rodgers and Hammerstein, complete with an "anti-love song." This parallelism backfires on Goldrich's piece, as it just made me want to hear "Ten Minutes Ago" and the rest of the legendary duo's own version of CINDERELLA rather than the lackluster tunes of EVER AFTER. The smooth ballads which comprise the whole show muddle together with no earworms to sing on the way home or look forward to hearing when/if a cast album gets released.
With Broadway dreams in sight, this adaptation can keep dreaming. Alongside forgettable songs, Marcy Heisler's self-aware book gets caught up in pandering to cynical audiences using 2019 jargon (like, "I'm totally hyperventilating right now") and apologizing for politically incorrect elements inherent in any mildly historically accurate Renaissance-era tale. The dumbed-down dialogue produces a few cheap laughs and robs the piece of any depth. EVER AFTER gets no legs, but rather sits exactly where the writers seem to be painstakingly trying to avoid: a shallow story with neither heart nor relevance.
As Danielle, Sierra Boggess presides over the performance like a queen, carrying her impeccable voice with star power. Her attempts to capture a multidimensional heroine- simultaneously strong, relatable, and lovable- fail to land within her condescending demeanor that keeps both co-actors and audience at a distance.
Tim Rogan's Prince Henry displays the most notable character change which he expertly delivers with his soaring, prince-perfect vocals through his lovably oblivious to triumphantly responsible portrayal. The song in which he tries to experience the life of a commoner (no song list in the program) but proves his naïveté towards their struggle is one of the only truly funny moments of the evening.
Rachel York is the villain we love to hate as the evil stepmother Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent. Looming tall in her garish beauty, she is perfectly cold as ice. Her voice soars with regal elegance as she commands the stage in her every scene.
Other notable performances include the hilarious Terry Burrell as Queen Marie, Rachel Flynn's endlessly entertaining antics as not-so-bad stepsister Jacqueline, and the loyal, heartfelt Justin Keyes as Gustave.
Under the direction of the brilliant Susan V. Booth, the Alliance itself does the job of premiering this musical with as much excellence possible, reminding us why they continue to be the Tony Award-winning theatre of Georgia.
In the hands of choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter and the ensemble, the highlight of the performance is easily the Bohemians' dance that closes Act 1. It is the one truly Broadway-caliber scene of the evening. Harkening to a gypsy dance style with a Jewish lilt, the flawless ensemble executes the relentless choreography to bring down the house, the only moment to warrant such a strong emotional reaction. Were the entire show of this caliber, their next step could be Broadway.
EVER AFTER runs through February 17. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., on The Coca-Cola Stage at Alliance Theatre. There will be no performances on Sunday, February 3. Tickets start at $25 and are available at The Woodruff Arts Center Box Office in person or by calling 404-733-5000. Tickets are also available online at www.alliancetheatre.org/everafter.