BWW Review: Sit Back in Your Own Little Chair at RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA with Footlite Musicals
Childhood is tied up with memories of favorite fairy tales and the dreams they inspired, which is part of what makes this musical so beloved. Everyone enjoys a chance to be pulled into a fantasy where magic is real and wishes are granted. This production has dashes of whimsy and romance that are sure to enchant children and adults alike into the fairy tale world of RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA.
I have a soft spot for this musical because I grew up watching both the 1965 TV film version with Lesley Ann Warren and Stuart Damon as Cinderella and the Prince and the TV film version with Brandy Norwood and Paolo Montalban as Cinderella and the Prince (along with a host of other famous actresses and actors). So I came into this production with very high hopes to relive my own glory days of waiting in my own little corner for my prince. I was in luck because this production had all of my favorite musical moments in addition to some tidbits of humor and fun that were not featured in the films.
Both Ella (Lauren Russel) and Prince Topher (Jacob Hardin) did an excellent job. I most enjoyed Russel's performance when she settled into her natural and clear vibrato and stayed away from pop-style slides. She made an enchanting princess. Hardin was a charismatic presence on the stage, the classic charmer to go with Ella's sweet innocence. Marie (Heather Catlow) had such a full and rich voice that brought the Fairy Godmother's presence a beautiful depth and magic.
My remaining praise goes to the characters I thought brought the most fun to the show. I had great fun watching the rivalry of presence, both physically and musically, of Sebastian (Markell Pipkins) and Lord Pinkleton (Chris Jones). They were a bright spot of humor as they did their political dances around the prince and one tried to outdo the other during "The Prince Is Giving a Ball." I also loved the stepsisters, Gabrielle (Tara Cherry) and Charlotte (Kristin Cutler). They particularly shone during the scene of "Stepsisters' Lament," a hilarious number that many a woman can relate to. Not everyone is born looking like the classic perception of a fairy tale princess, but that shouldn't prevent a woman from finding her prince.
The costumes were another part of the production that made it such fun. Samantha Kelly (Head Costumer) did an excellent job leading her costume crew to make the garments functional, fun, and worthy of a fairy tale. Another bit that made the production so enjoyable were the puppets, a collection of woodland creatures. The ensemble members who brought them to life were not listed individually, but I would like to praise them for being another source of whimsy and delight on the stage.
Initially written as a 76-minute television creation in 1957 for Julie Andrews, Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA has subsequently navigated its way through numerous changed versions for both the small screen and the stage, each one diverging in some way from the other as though frequently in development. Songs are removed, while new ones are added, including "Now is the Time", taken from South Pacific and given to a new character here. In 2013, Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA finally made it to Broadway, appearing as the sum of all the work and amendments made to the piece since the CBS broadcast 1957. And that's what you will have the pleasure of seeing at Footlite Muscials, showing until the 15th of December. It was quite the dazzling spectacle and is more appropriate for family audiences with young princess and princesses of their own.
Everybody knows the story of Cinderella, how the young lady is orphaned, and forced into a lifetime of servitude by an evil stepmother and her two stepsisters. While that is the traditional story, and is basic story arc of what happened in this show, there have been some welcomed updates, aimed at a more modern taste. There are also some major differences to what you think you may see.
An outstanding main cast brought the musical to life. Jill O'Malia gave us a wonderful performance as Madame (who you might know as the Wicked Stepmother), and at certain times, could have easily provoked a few boos and hisses. The leading lady, Lauren Russel, truly came across as the belle of the ball. Her spot-on vocals drifted through Footlite with such confidence that the whole audience was utterly enchanted. Russel also gave the sense that, although the character is mistreated by the step-mother, there is a ferocity just below the surface, and it was a wonderful take on the iconic character.
In truth, the musical possesses a split personality among its magic, hovering somewhere between the old-fashioned and the new. While Cinderella's overall story is, by now, practically indestructible, the changes that the show made to boost the original 76-minutes into a two-hour production was well done.