BWW Interview: Ashley Blanchet as Ella in CINDERELLA at Paper Mill Playhouse 11/20 to 12/29
Paper Mill Playhouse will soon be presenting Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, new book by Douglas Carter Beane, and original book by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Directed by Mark S. Hoebee with choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter and music direction by Michael Borth, the principal cast features Ashley Blanchet as Ella; Donna English as Marie; Rose Hemingway as Gabrielle; Dee Hoty as Madame; Andrew Kober as Jean-Michel; Angel Lin as Charlotte; Christopher Sieber as Sebastian; Billy Harrigan Tighe as Topher; and Michael Wayne Wordly as Lord Pinkleton. They are joined by a talented ensemble.
This enchanting, Tony-nominated Broadway adaptation of the beloved musical will put a spell on audiences of all ages. Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella showcases some of the songwriting duo's loveliest tunes, including "In My Own Little Corner," "Impossible/It's Possible," and "Ten Minutes Ago," as well as some new characters and surprising twists. Add a dash of fairytale romance, magical onstage transformations, and the iconic pumpkin and glass slippers and you're guaranteed to have a ball!
When did you first realize that you were destined for the stage?
I was that kid who was ALWAYS trying to put on a show. Recess... family vacations... any free time, really- was an opportunity to sell some homemade tickets. I drove my family absolutely nuts. I guess one moment that stands out the most was in seeing Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun at the Marriott Theater when I was about 11. Of course, she's magic, and the show was on another plane for me- I don't think I breathed the entire time. That was the first time I remember feeling physically altered by a show, with that sort of aching desire you get when you see something really special. I remember walking back up the aisle afterward, sort of out of body, quietly vowing/praying to somehow become part of that world one day.
Tell us a little about your education and how it prepared you for your career.
My mother put me in ballet class at about 4 years old. I had a cousin, Lorraine Graves, who was a principal dancer at The Dance Theater of Harlem. I can remember taking class and then rushing upstairs to get a glimpse of her company rehearsal. Magic. I wasn't destined to be a ballerina like Lorraine, but I've always loved ballet very much and still love to take class. Lets see, I guess I started to study voice in my early teens. Classical training with actual teachers and then Barbra Streisand records at home. In my last two years of high school my parents gave me the opportunity to go to the Walnut Hill School for Performing Arts. It was an incredible place. Joe Cabral, the artistic director, demanded excellence. I still hear him in my head all the time- "success is when preparation meets opportunity,"... "always be an actor first and Listen,"... "do your very best." The two years I spent at Walnut Hill made a huge impression on me and on my life. From there I was lucky enough to go on to study at another excellent school, The University of Michigan. Go Blue!
How does it feel to be back at Paper Mill Playhouse?
Paper Mill is a very special place and I'm so thrilled to be back. It's a beautiful theater with fantastic people. One of the best parts is getting out of the hustle of the city for a bit and coming to Millburn. I can't wait for a sandwich from the Millburn Deli!!
What makes Paper Mill Playhouse such a great venue for theatre artists?
I had a wonderful time during my first year at Paper Mill... and now that I'm in rehearsals with him I'm finally coming to the conclusion that Mark Hoebee is the special sauce. He is an awesome director. He's very clear on exactly what he wants, but he's open to the creative process in a very special way. The rehearsal room is a truly fun place to be, which isn't always the case. He creates a very focused, safe space for magical things to happen and I think that great vibe must be what brings artists happily back, year after year. I have to add that everyone on our creative team is a joy to work with. Joanne M. Hunter, our choreographer, and Michael Borth who is musical director both come to rehearsals with so much specificity, while still leaving room to explore. I've been feeling very lucky.
Leading the cast of such an iconic story is so exciting. Tell us a little about the challenges of your role as Ella in Cinderella.
We want to make sure to tell this classic story (a story that reaches very far back in history) in a modern way. In this production, Ella is not a victim. I keep wanting to respond to things in an equally negative way, so a challenge for me has been in finding her lightness, especially in tough moments. Her resilience. She's an absolute optimist, she never holds on to pain for very long, she's always reaching and hoping for something better. And in this latest version adapted by Douglas Carter Beane, that hope isn't just for herself, but extends to the betterment of everyone around her as well.
How have you prepared to play Ella?
I have a very deep love for Rogers and Hammerstein; they're my parents' favorite songwriters. These are some of the most beautiful and well known melodies and lyrics in the American songbook, so of course they've been an absolute joy to work on and practice. Deep down, we've all wanted to be magically transformed to go to a ball to meet a soul mate, haven't we? It's a dream come true that I never knew I had.
What would you like audiences to know about the show?
We can't wait to share this modern retelling of a classic fairy tale. It's the heartwarming musical you know with a few modern twists... Plus a little of our own! Don't miss it!
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella begins performances Wednesday, November 20, 2019, and will continue through Sunday evening, December 29, 2019, at Paper Mill Playhouse (22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ). Tickets can be purchased at the Playhouse Box Office, by visiting https://papermill.org/ or by calling 973.376.4343.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ashley Blanchet