CINDERELLA – Music by Richard Rodgers; Lyrics and Original Book by Oscar Hammerstein II; New Book by Douglas Carter Beane; Directed by Kenny Moten; Music Direction by Jordan Ortman; Choreography by Jessica Hindsley. Produced by the Arvada Center (6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada) through December 31. Tickets available at 720-898-7200 or arvadacenter.org.
Bob Fosse died in 1987 and his soul burst into tiny pieces. They floated around in the musicverse waiting for just the right tiny bodies to arrive. Then they dropped into the hearts of little dancers who grew up to be brilliant choreographers. We are so lucky to have several of those tiny, but now grown-up choreographers, here in Denver. Jessica Hindsley is one of them. The dancing in this show, under her watchful eye, is absolutely breath-taking. The waltz at the end of Act One is like watching angels breathing. Go see this show with your own tiny dancers and you’ll see what I mean.
Charles Perrault’s love story written in 1697 has gone through hundreds of adaptations and portrayals on stage, in movies, on TV, in ballets and in books. Many small changes have been added to the basic story over the centuries till we come to the popular version with music and lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein written in 1957 for television and was subsequently given a more modern book by Douglas Carter Beane in 2013. Director Kenny Moten adds his own special touches to make the whole experience more relatable to today’s audiences. His villagers carry cellphones, for instance, and some of the dances are gender free. Kenny finds the humor in each scene and allows the players to have fun with it.
[A personal note: I have been enthralled with Kenny Moten’s talent since I first met him as the Teen Angel in GREASE (“Beauty School Drop Out”) at Country Dinner Playhouse. He came floating down from the ceiling with his foot hooked into a loop singing his heart out. The next time I worked with him, he was involved in a Christmas Spectacular as a dancing candy cane. Kenny’s come a long way, directing in multiple theatres all over the state and winning kudos left and right for his talent. I knew way back then that this was a performer who was going to go places. Good job, Mr. Moten!]
In the lead role of Ella, we have the lovely voice and lovely talent of Hillary Fisher. She could probably make a successful career by going from production to production playing this role, it suits her so perfectly. But that’s no fun; there’s too many great roles out there waiting for her to find them. I just hope she finds her way back to Denver occasionally. Ethan Walker who has recently lit up the stages at both Candlelight and the PACE Center in lead roles, makes a beguiling prince. Some of his solos seemed to be a little low for his voice but he overcame it all with charm. His transition from a do-nothing innocent to a soon-to-be dynamic ruler was fun to watch.
The two officials who have been running the show until Prince Topher “grows up” are obviously devious and underhanded. Sebastian, as played by Zayaz Da Camara and Lord Pinkleton (Madelyn J. Smith), make delightful villains who were not really “bad,” just taking advantage of a situation. They soon learned they weren’t going to get away with that anymore. Their counterpart was a relatively new character (added by Beane in his adaptation) to take the opposite stand as the lazy government officials. Jean-Michel, given voice by Christian McQueen, is labeled a radical because he wants justice and responsibility from the royal family. (Just reading the evening news creates an echo in the theatre.) But even Jean-Michel has his soft side as he is goofy over one of Ella’s stepsisters.
In this version, the stepmother Madame and stepsisters Gabrielle and Charlotte have very different characters from your usual round of fairy tale bad guys. Megan Van De Hey as the elegantly gowned Madame can become deceptively understanding and obviously cruel in the blink of an eye. As all three reminisce about the ball and Ella “wonders” about what it must have been like in “When You’re Driving Through the Moonlight,” Madame remembers her younger days. For a minute there, she forgot to be mean. The sisters – played by Rachel Turner and Lily Schmoker – are comic characters, but they too just want to be noticed and loved. Rachel’s turn as Gabrielle gives her the opportunity to fall in love with Jean-Michel and help her sister Ella. Both girls have the funniest song in the show with the “Sister’s Lament” that the prince seems to want someone pretty and smart. They wonder why he couldn’t like someone just ordinary – like them.
Special kudos to Alana Watters for her role as the Fairy Godmother who makes the magic happen. The costumers and artisans in the scene shop really help her out, but she’s the one on stage who must make it happen in front of the audience. She pulls off quick changes and changing mice into footmen in the blink of an eye. Her voice is magnificent and her personality sparkling. Her two foot-mice, Jasmyne Pierce and Rae Leigh Case, are athletic dancers and acrobatics, thrilling the audience with their tumbling antics.
I always know I’m going to see a beautiful well produced show when I go to the Arvada Center. Everyone from the people making the decisions to the artisans in the scene, prop and costume shops to the people participating in rehearsals to the people selling the tickets know their jobs and do them well with quiet competence and devotion to their collective art. A well-run ant hill dedicated to the arts. It’s a pleasure to go through the door.
A WOW factor of 9!!