BWW Review: ELLA ENCHANTED at Childsplay Theatre
Disclaimer: As a performer in Phoenix, I have played alongside and worked for many actors and theatre companies throughout the local community. However, my duty as a reviewer is to bring honesty and integrity to Broadway World and its patrons. With that, being transparent at the top of this post is the most fitting way to open. Although I have been a performer with Childsplay, and my wife, Savannah Alfred, plays the part of Hattie in this production of Ella Enchanted, I promise that the following review has been written honestly and without bias. It is with this disclaimer that I hope you, the reader, find my transparency as a promise of integrity to the following review.
Only in theatre does an audience get the chance to witness a fairytale come to life. It is this magical moment that companies like Childsplay execute to perfection, with their ability to make storybooks burst, sending pages flying about the stage, only to settle and become a piece that can be described as nothing short of enchanting. Childsplay's production of Ella Enchanted at the Herberger Theatre Center brings imagination and wonder to audiences young and young at heart.
Ella Enchanted the Musical is an adaptation of Gail Carson Levine's book of the same title. This beautiful story follows Ella (Michelle Chin), whom at one day old was given the gift of obedience by her fairy godmother, Lucinda (Trisha Hart Ditsworth) after her mother, Lady Elenore (Katie McFadzen) was unable to console her. As the show progresses, we see this spell-dubbed curse manifest from a mere nuisance into nearly dangerous. Michell Chin brings a genuineness to Ella's yearning for freedom to choose her own fate and make her own decisions. Accompanying this is Michelle's ability to let her voice float effortlessly with the music. The dynamic thickens once Vinny Chavez's charming portrayal of Prince Charmont is mixed in. More than just a love interest, Vinny brings to the relationship between Ella and Char a much deeper friendship. The pair also makes for a beautiful duet with "It's Like Magic." We find this same amazingness when Ella is paired with Trisha Hart Ditsworth's Lucinda on the Reprise. Trisha gives to Lucinda more than just a lack of understanding or being able to identify with another's misfortune. Lucinda starts as Ella's fading glimmer of hope, only to become the light that leads her to learn that the way out of the spell is not through just saying a few words that rhyme.
It is without mention that Ella's fate is sealed with her disinterested Father, Sir Peter (Beau Heckman) Her stepmother, Dame Olga, (Katie McFadzen) and her evil stepsisters, Hattie and Olive (Savannah Alfred and Kat Bailes). Beau's Sir Peter is the typical absentee father, bringing the true dangers of his daughter's curse when he marries Olga after his wife's death, unaware of the curses existence nor his new wife's money-grubbing schemes. Beau brings a realness to Peter's lack of interest in his daughter's troubles for the sake of funds that almost makes you genuinely irritated with him throughout the show. This is only shadowed by Katie McFadzen's Dame Olga, the polar opposite of Ella's mother, Elenore, in more ways than one. Katie's Olga is ruthless, wanting nothing less than all Sir Peter has to offer and then some. Rounding out our evil quartet are the step-sisters, Hattie and Olive. Savannah Alfred gives the audience exactly what you picture an evil stepsister to be. Her malicious force and manipulating nature are only seconded by her infatuation with Prince Char and fueled by her jealousy of Ella and his relationship. Paired with Kat Bailes' Olive, these two are nothing less than hilarious. Kat's timing with each quick quip Olive delivers is awesome. If you're not laughing at the witticism of one, you are definitely giggling at the lack of gracefulness and poise of the other.
Without question, the pacing throughout all 75 minutes of this show is amazing. From line to line and scene to scene you are enthralled, if not by the happenings of the show, then by the immaculateness of the set and costumes. With Aaron Jackson's scenic design and Connie Furr-Soloman's costuming, this show is brimming with eye-popping visuals. Each scene and costume change is timed so that you forget the people you just saw in regal fairytale garb have become the vocally enticing ogre's, then the larger than life giants, and back again. Their use of the large space on the Herberger's Center Stage is impeccable. A display of distance while using the depths of the stage immerses the audience into every scene while utilizing versatile and seemingly easy to maneuver sets and great use of flown pieces giving the impression of traversing a forest to an enchanting menagerie or entering a grand ballroom.
While writing this review, I am reminded of our current climate and the conversations surrounding a person's freedom to choose. At face value, we can see throughout the show, Ella's want to say no to dangerous commands given to her. However, we mustn't forget the instance where she wishes to say yes without the worry of what may happen surrounding it. It is vital that we as human beings understand the importance lies more in the ability for the person to choose their answer without others assuming out of context. It is much better to dig deeper and understand rather than assume that you know.
How dare Childsplay's production of Ella Enchanted be so enchanting. With an amazing cast, immaculate set design, and beautiful costumes, how could it not be? Ella Enchanted is a fun-filled show for the whole family and they didn't have to convince me in Ogre-ese to say that. Catch this production at the Herberger Theatre Center before the spell wears off on December 30th.
PC: Tim Trumble