At Nashville Children's Theatre, Self-Expression Shines, Sparking Young Imaginations in HIP HOP CINDERELLA

Director Ernie Nolan, Choreographer Dominic Moore-Dunson and Musical Director Piper Jones Bring New Cinderella For the Ages To the Stage

By: Apr. 18, 2023
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At Nashville Children's Theatre, Self-Expression Shines, Sparking Young Imaginations in HIP HOP CINDERELLA
Maya Riley as Ella C. in Nasvhville Children's Theatre's
Hip Hop Cinderella.

Among attributes audience members have come to expect from a Nashville Children's Theatre production - fired by significant amounts of imagination and enough creativity to empower the minds of every youngster who has ever been introduced to the transformative power of live theater by the artists of NCT - are unique approaches to live performance, replete with stunning visuals, the casting of actors who look like their young audiences, and refreshingly new and exciting concepts that breathe new life in ages-old tales.

Particularly in what can now best be described as "The Ernie Nolan Era" of NCT, audiences know going in that they'll be treated to sumptuously designed and startling aesthetics (scenic, lighting and costume designs representative of creators at the zenith of their talents) and a singularly impressive artistic vision which will ensure that whole new generations of theater-goers are born every season.

No doubt about it, Hip Hop Cinderella (now onstage in Ann Stahlman Hill Theatre, where some of the very best of Nashville theater can be witnessed year after year) is a perfect example of how NCT, under Nolan's artistic direction, continues to evolve and to offer new avenues by which audiences of all ages are given the power of theatrical transport to experience the unexpected (even as they luxuriate in the familiar glow of recognition of a well-loved story).

At Nashville Children's Theatre, Self-Expression Shines, Sparking Young Imaginations in HIP HOP CINDERELLA
Joi Ware, Gerold Oliver and Davis Cooper.

Originally brought to life during the pandemic, as its creators sought a new form of expression when theaters went dark, Hip Hop Cinderella is now presented as a full-fledged stage musical during its run at NCT. Written by Scott Elmegreen, with music and lyrics by Rona Siddiqui and story adaptation by Linda Chichester and David Coffman, this Cinderella for a new age delights its young audiences with a fast-moving storyline, innovative physical presentation, music that may have you dancing in the aisles and enough theatrical flourishes to leave you wanting more.

Directed by Nolan with his trademark flair and fanciful approach (along with his unerring ability to make any show accessible for every member of the audience), Hip Hop Cinderella is fun and funny, gorgeous to look at (William Ditty's interstellar costumes are simply unbelievable; Scott Leathers' scenic and lighting haute couture designs are eye-poppingly impressive; projections, designed by William Kyle Odum, Sam Lowry and Woven Theatre Company, may be the best we've ever seen created for local production; and David Weinstein's superb sound design finds the perfect audio sweet spot that makes the show a joy to hear).

The vocals sound terrific, thanks to musical director Piper Jones (making her NCT debut on the creative team, after years of noteworthy onstage performances - her Ursula in The Little Mermaid is the stuff of NCT legend) and the show is filled with high-powered energy and expressive verve by the innovative choreography of Dominic Moore-Dunson, one of contemporary dance's most renowned creators and stage movement innovators.

At Nashville Children's Theatre, Self-Expression Shines, Sparking Young Imaginations in HIP HOP CINDERELLA
Jordan Tudor, Meggan Utech, Maya Riley
and James Rudolph II.

In addition to the clever and intelligent adaptation of the traditional Cinderella story -which places our heroine in an intergalactic world in which she is aided and abetted by a robot (which she co-created with her father prior to his untimely demise) instead of a fairy godmother, and she drops a sequined trainer when she teleports back to her still-oppressive reality (her stepmother and her stepsisters are still annoyingly vapid and self-centered, yet the three are somehow far funnier and more caustic than you've ever seen) - which updates the story for contemporary audiences, and never fails to offer reminders for younger audiences that they are capable, in charge and smart enough to realize their own dreams even as Cinderella (now know as "Ella C") achieves hers.

Nolan's talented ensemble of actors bring their characters to life with a sense of insouciance and gleeful abandon: Maya Riley is utterly delightful as the title character and, as she has with other roles in the past couple of seasons on local stages, shows off the depth of her talents and her uncanny ability to claim any role as her own. James Rudolph II, whose NCT career has grown exponentially in the company's most recent seasons, is terrific as Runka, Cinderella's robot confidant, while Sarah Bailey very nearly steals the show as Lady Zurka, the caustic diva of a stepmother.

At Nashville Children's Theatre, Self-Expression Shines, Sparking Young Imaginations in HIP HOP CINDERELLA
Jordan Tudor, Sarah Bailey and Meggan Utech

Jordan Tudor and Meggan Utech are perfectly cast as Zig and Zag, the stepsisters, who will bring to mind any number of innocuous social media influencers, what with their over-the-top fashion sense and their ridiculous rhyme and rap that are too hilarious for words. Gerold Oliver is unctuous, arrogant and sure of himself as the flamboyant Prince, with stage presence to spare, in search of new Rebel Rappers to bring peace to his intergalactic kingdom when he happens upon Ella C. (thanks to the planning and plotting of Runka that, he warns Cinderella/Ella, might turn them into pumpkins if they don't make it home by midnight).

Joi Ware and Davis Cooper, as members of the Prince's Court, bring more hip-hop style and artistry to the production, thanks to Moore-Dunson's choreography.

At Nashville Children's Theatre, Self-Expression Shines, Sparking Young Imaginations in HIP HOP CINDERELLA
James Rudolph II (front and center) and the rest
of the cast of Hip Hop Cinderella.

Clearly, this is a fresh take on Cinderella that fashions an up-to-the-minute portrait of self-assurance and the power of believing in one's dreams. As NCT reminds us, in this and every other show they have ever produced, anything is possible!

Hip Hop Cinderella. Written by Scott Elmegreen. Music and lyrics by Rona Siddiqui. Story adaptation by Linda Chichester and David Coffman. Directed by Ernie Nolan. Choreography by Dominic Moore-Dunson. Musical direction by Piper Jones. Stage managed by Abby Locke Austin and Nikki Staggs. Presented by Nashville Children's Theatre, Through May 21. For further details, go to Running time: 65 minutes (with no intermission).


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