BWW Reviews: Broadway San Diego's CINDERELLA Gallops Its Way Into Hearts

What does a company do when the roof practically flies off the theater?

It almost happened Wednesday night when Rodgers and Hammerstein's vintage Broadway musical Cinderella galloped its way into San Diego's Civic Theatre on the hooves of magical starlit horses against an enchanted forest backdrop. Anyone listening from Third Avenue might have thought the escalating cheers emanating from the audience during the performance were a response to a stadium concert from the latest flavor-of-the-month group. The hall literally rocked with enthusiasm and delight.

For those of us willing to admit to being old enough to have seen the original production on TV starring Julie Andrews, the marvelously rendered performance was a shimmer of nostalgia flowing through our hearts. For the multitude of princess-garbed little girls in the audience, it must have been a magical thrill ride.

The uniformly strong, skilled cast made the evening a pleasure from beginning to end. Richard Rodgers did not stint on vocal difficulties, and all of the performers were up to the task of singing with strength and tastefulness. Danny Troob orchestrated the musical adaptation by David Chase of the production, which was directed with comic aplomb by Mark Brokaw and beautifully choreographed by Josh Rhodes. With a new book using appropriately contemporary language suitable for the Social Media generation written by Douglas Carter Beane, every minute of the production delighted the enchanted audience.

Starting with her first entrance as (Cinder) Ella, Audrey Cardwell held the audience in thrall. Grace and charm in her manner, gifted physicality and sparkling vocal tones, all heightened her performance as the beleaguered black sheep of a highly dysfunctional family consisting of a grumpy single mom and two off-the-wall sisters. Cardwell's luminous voice cut through the live orchestra and vocal ensembles, always audible but never sounding forced, and she negotiated the many high notes superbly, always maintaining a beautiful sound. Julie Andrews would have been proud.

As Topher, the handsome prince destined to be Cardwell's soul mate, Andy Huntington Jones was a perfect match for her, dramatically and vocally. His crystal clear tenor never flagged, even through the most difficult range, and his appealing portrayal of princely angst was both poignant and funny.

Kecia Lewis showed great dramatic versatility and vocal expertise as Marie, tugging at people's hearts as the down-and-out old woman who glammed her way into the role of Ella's fairy godmother, where she performed with great authority and comic flair. Her taxing aria in the second act would have challenged even an operatic mezzo-soprano. She rendered it impressively.

Beth Glover's performance as Madame went far beyond the wicked stepmother cliché. Alternately needy, cruel, and psychologically unstable, she actually evoked sympathy in her more vulnerable moments. Her characterization was skillfully done, and sheer pleasure to watch.

Kaitlyn Davidson and Aymee Garcia, as Glover's two daughters Gabrielle and Charlotte, had everyone in stitches. Davidson's rendering of the insecure, put-upon young woman was diverse and subtle, changing from timid to aggressive, standing up for herself when pushed to her limits. Garcia played the less attractive sister to the hilt. Her "Stepsister's Lament" in Act 2 was one of the highlights of the evening: comically brilliant with adept physicality and belted out in true Broadway style. Both sisters left most of the egregious cruelty to their mom. Freud would have had a field day with all three of them.

Blakely Slaybaugh, replacing David Andino as stressed-out, lovesick political Michael Moore wannabe Jean-Michel, showed great appeal and appropriate anxiety in his utterly believable portrayal. Despite his diminutive stature, he gave great muscle to his character, never giving way physically to any threat that came his way, and evoking compassionate murmurs from the audience.

Antoine L. Smith and Branch Woodman, Lord Pinkleton and Sebastian respectively, were strong, enthusiastic additions to the other principals. All of the ensemble players worked together superbly to create a cohesive whole.

Some of the evening's highest praise should go to costume designer and six-time Tony Award-winner William Ivey Long. If ever one needed to know how to transform rags into ball gowns and a pumpkin into a coach on a live stage, one need only turn to Long. His brilliantly done costumes were nothing short of a miracle, evoking gasps from the audience. (Revealing more than that would only spoil the effect for the next evening's audience.)

Equally stunning were the sets of Tony Award nominee Anna Louizos. The colors were vivid, the shapes pleasing to the eye, and the unity from scene to scene magnificently done.

Why would a fella want a girl like Ella? That is simply theatrical tradition. What does a company do when the roof almost flies off the theater? They just keep going. And the audience was unfailingly delighted from beginning to end.

Photo credits: Susan Rosegg

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From This Author Erica Miner

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