Updated: Jun 1
It Really Was a Lovely Night!
Ahhhh…Cinderella! There’s simply no denying this charming, witty adaptation from principal architect, Douglas Carter Beane (“Xanadu,” “The Little Dog Laughed,” Sister Act”), who has taken so many liberties with the classic story that you may not always know where it’s going — a big feat for such a classic tale. His script crackles with sweetness, freshness and drawing room humor, even combining a quip or two from “Monty Python’s Spamalot” and “Les Miserables.”
Starring Emily Grace Tucker as Cinderella, the show, presented by Musical Theatre West, is currently running in all its marvelous enchantment at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach through December 18th — a pleasurable confection of old-fashioned stagecraft, enchanting design elements, smooth direction and choreography, and most of all, winning contributions from an ideally cast ensemble.
Like the reinvented cartoon fairy-tale heroines of the past several decades, from Disney’s “Little Mermaid” onward, this Cinderella is no passive damsel waiting for a rescuing knight. She takes charge of her destiny, so much so that she doesn’t lose that glass slipper — she hands it to the prince. It’s a conscious choice, see; she controls her narrative. And, by the way, the prince must undergo a similar process of re-education, which will allow him to conquer his self-doubts and introduce democracy to his kingdom.
Originally commissioned by CBS as a vehicle for Julie Andrews, Cinderella marks the only musical written for television by the legendary team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/book writer Oscar Hammerstein II. A staggering 107 million viewers watched the 1957 broadcast premiere in the U.S. alone. TV remakes in 1965 (headlining Lesley Ann Warren) and 1997 (starring Brandy and Whitney Houston) were also successful.
The show has been retooled for the stage various times, including a London pantomime version, a New York City Opera incarnation and even an all-female production in Japan. But 2013 marked its first Broadway presentation. With Beane’s track record, you fully expect something with a satirical edge, and the script does not disappoint, with fresh sass and snark in the dialogue, but also a treatment that is surprisingly coated with a warm embrace of sugar-frosted tradition.
Director Peggy Hickey (who did the original choreography) gets high marks for juggling a lot of dancing, special effects, heavy scenery and top-notch singing with one foot in classic elegance and the other in modern cheekiness. The musical is lifted right out of an old-time storybook kingdom filled with quaint cottages and dragon-infested forests (set design by John Patrick), favoring woodsy settings over the standard cobblestoned kingdom. But its inhabitants get to have more quirks than fairy tales typically allow for.
In this version, Prince Topher (who goes by the shortened form of his unwieldy royal moniker) is more awkward than princely (Gabriel Navarro performs with an unguarded boyish innocence but with a regal voice). A naive puppet of Lord Chancellor Sebastian (a delightfully droll Perry Ojeda), who has duped his young charge into approving oppressive legislation and robbing his people, he knows very little about the kingdom he rules. He is dissatisfied with his daily pursuits, and is not searching for a bride, but rather, himself (he sings "Me, Who Am I?" an R&H gem plucked from the lesser-known musical “Me & Juliet”). Of course, we eventually get to his quest for a bride. This is Cinderella after all. And for that, we do need a royal ball.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the kingdom, Ms. Tucker’s ‘Ella knows exactly who she is — just not what she's capable of. She's a peasant girl who has resigned herself to a life tending to the needs of her wicked stepmother (a perfectly cast Tracy Lore) and two stepsisters (a pair of great comic performances by Joanna Johnson as the brazen and oversexed Charlotte, and Aviva Pressman as the covertly altruistic Gabrielle).
She values kindness above all else, and nurtures friendships with political activist Jean-Michel (a blustering Jalon Matthews, who is in love with Gabrielle and seeks justice for the PM’s tyranny), and local crazy lady Marie (a thoroughly amusing Daebreon Poiema, stumbling and mumbling, but in wonderful voice; “There’s Music in You”), who, in a twist of good karma, turns out to be a fairy godmother who can make ‘Ella's wildest dreams come true.
Cue the coach (a horse-drawn carriage that appears as if we were in a Vegas magic show), the footmen (a scruffy fox and raccoon, puppeteered by Michael Bullard and Rorey Chavarria, who suddenly turn into two stouthearted lads in white satin coachmen suits), and, of course, the gown in one of the most magical costume changes of Broadway sorcery you're likely to see on a stage.
The chemistry between Ms. Tucker’s downtrodden ‘Ella and Mr. Nararro’s lovestruck Prince Topher, is resoundingly right. But perhaps equally important is the romantic power of the music — their buoyant melodiousness in Danny Troob’s shimmering orchestrations is more than transporting. ‘Ella’s enchanting "Ten Minutes Ago" duet with Mr. Navarro, which is equivalent to Romeo and Juliet’s “palmers’ kiss” scene, is sung quite fetchingly here.
Cinderella’s signature number, “In My Own Little Corner,” immediately conveys the resilient sweetness of a girl treated like a slave by her archly scornful stepmother Madame (Ms. Lore). And when the Prince from his throne picks up the song’s refrain of “Just as long as I stay in my own little chair,” it cleverly cements their kinship as dreamers confined by their station.
Other musical highpoints include "Now Is the Time" (sung by Sebastian, Madame, Jean-Michel and Nick Tubbs’ Lord Pinkleton, Sebastian’s second-in-command), which had been previously cut from South Pacific; a wonderfully fun “Impossible,” sung by Marie, the Fairy Godmother (Daebreon Poiema); and the soaring lovers’ duet “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” performed with rapturous gusto by Mr. Navarro and Ms. Tucker. Without exception, this entire production is gorgeously sung.
And, oh yes, the dresses, which have been left to the capable and industrious hands of Travis Grant. I should point out that in their Broadway run, although several Tony nominations were acquired, only one Tony was given – to the costumers. The showstoppers in this version aren’t the songs so much as those instant costume changes from rags to riches. And the parade of gorgeous, big-skirted, Technicolor dresses that appeared in almost every scene, most notably in the ball sequence, would have sent Joan Rivers into overdrive. And I should also mention that fabulous wedding dress at the end really brought down the house.
MUSICAL THEATRE WEST PRESENTS, “RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA,” Music by RICHARD ROGERS, Original Book & Lyrics by OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN II, New Book by DOUGLAS CARTER BEANE. Directed by PEGGY HICKEY; Musically Directed by DENNIS CASTELLANO; Choreographed by BILL BURNS, Based on Original Choreography by PEGGY HICKEY. Orchestrations by Danny Troob; Music Adaptations & Arrangements by DAVID CHASE. Technical Direction by EVAN FRIEDMAN; Lighting Design by PAUL BLACK; Scenic Design by JOHN PATRICK; Sound Design by JULIE FERRIN; Costume Design by TRAVIS GRANT; Wig Design by MICHON GRUBER; Stage Management by KELLY MARIE PATE; Executive Director/Producer PAUL GARMAN.
WITH: EMILY GRACE TUCKER * GABRIEL NAVARRO * DAEBREON POIEMA * PERRY OJEDA * TRACY LORE * AVIVA PRESSMAN * JOANNA JOHNSON * JALON MATTHEWS * NICK TUBBS * RICHARD BULDA * MICHAEL BULLARD * ROREY CHAVARRIA * QUINTAN CRAIG * LAUREN DECIERDO * ERIN DUBREUIL * MISSY MARION * SARAH MORGAN * ALEJANDRO MULLERDAHLBERG * NOELLE ROTH * CALLULA SAWYER * ADAM WINER
MTW’s production of “CINDERELLA,” Now Playing at Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach CA, with performances on Sat, December 10th at 2PM & 8PM, Sun, December 11th at 1PM & 6PM, Fri, December 16th at 8PM, Sat, December 17th at 2PM & 8PM, Sun, December 18th at 1PM. Tickets are now on sale and may be purchased online at https://musical.org/
Musical Theatre West is an award-winning theatrical production company in Southern California that was founded as the Whittier Civic Light Opera in 1952. It is one of southern California's oldest regional music theatre companies and draws attendees from more than one hundred areas.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Caught in the Moment