“You have something to believe in, yourself!” exclaims the Fairy Godmother to Ella in Spreckels Theatre Company’s presentation of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.” This optimistic message underscores the two-thousand-year old fairy tale set whirling to music with colorful dancing, some humor for grown-ups and a hopeful outcome for everyone.
Spreckels’ production opened Fri., May 10th with some surprising twists to the well-known story. The production runs through May 26th with evening shows beginning at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and Thurs, May 23rd and matinees starting at 1 p.m. on May 18, 19 and 26.
Sheri Lee Miller, director, works with music director Paul Smith and choreographer Michella Snider to create this magical show. Through their guidance, the cast fulfills the program’s claim that “it is a tale that celebrates everything that we love and value: hard work, modesty, generosity, bravery, perseverance and . . . the firm belief that something better . . . something wonderful . . . something impossible . . . is possible for us all.” And to discover this, you must see what has been added to this ages old tale.
What’s the same? The wicked stepsisters and stepmother, the abused stepdaughter, the ball, the glass slippers, the princely search. Brittany Law, returning from her second national tour with Bay Area Children’s Theatre, invests the character of Ella (Cinderella) with optimism, friendliness and an everlasting smile. Ella infects the kingdom with kindness touching every character.
Ella’s mischievous comments reveal a sense of worldliness. For example, when told that a particular man is a famous political figure, she cheekily replies, “That man, a world leader? But he appears to have a heart and soul.” Ella has seen enough of the world to know that she only needs her own little space. Her rendition of “In My Little Corner,” reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle’s “All’s I Want is a Room Somewhere,” suggests that she doesn’t take up much space in this world. Law plays Ella with just the right mix of spunkiness, innocence and hope.
Prince Topher, played by Zachary Hasbany, seems naïve yet wary of court politics. He has an innate desire to do right and enough compunction to defy his advisors. Myopic, to say the least, the Prince misses most things that happen directly in front of him. Hasbany’s prince, just when he seems to be irredeemable, makes the right moves at the right time.
Larry Williams and Sean O’Brien play the devious lords, Sebastian and Pinkleton, as conniving scoundrels willing to do anything to maintain their own positions. They attempt to manipulate Topher during musical numbers where Topher is looking for guidance such as “Me, Who Am I?” and “The Prince is Giving a Ball.”
It’s all right for fairy godmothers to steal the show with their own goodness which is what Mary Gannon Graham does as Crazy Marie transforms through spins and clouds of smoke into Ella’s fairy godmother. Graham effectively portrays two different characters.
Marie’s counter characters, Madame and Gabrielle and Charlotte, come close to embodying all of the seven deadly sins: pride, gluttony, greed, lust, envy, wrath and sloth. Madame, Ella’s stepmother, played by Daniela Innocenti-Beem, providing enough energy to become almost oversized, reveals her own needs before all have lived happily ever after.
Ella’s stepsisters, Gabrielle and Charlotte, emerge as distinctly different, not so dislikable as they first appear. Shawna Eiermann makes Gabrielle a sympathetic character for the audience as she allies with Ella. ScharyPearl Fugitt’s Charlotte maintains that more traditional Cinderella stepsister almost to the end of the show. Yet, she radiates something true to humanity with her petty cruelty that almost makes her likable, certainly believable.
Jean-Michel, a new character added to the Cinderella story, becomes an antagonist to the kingdom, but not the prince, and to Madame, but not one of her daughters. Michael Coury Murdock, last seen at Spreckels in December as the Mayor in “The Tailor of Gloucester,” plays the idealist revolutionary and ideal lover to be not only a foil of the Prince but, in some respects, a mirror image of Topher.
Thirteen members of the Ensemble populated this production with thirteen distinct personalities each worth noting. Their dancing and singing filled the stage with harmony, movement and color. Two-dozen musical pieces balanced the story as Sheri Lee Miller, Paul Smith, and Michella Snider guided the acting, dancing, and singing that combined to make this a wonderful production for adults and children. And Paul Smith led the eleven-piece orchestra as he played the piano.
Those backstage behind the scenes people added touches to make the show majestic and magical. Pamela Johnson’s costumes nearly upstaged the actors with color. Set designers Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen created many different pieces using the back wall and moving parts effectively. Hansen added atmosphere with as the lighting director while Bazzano doubled as stage manager. Jessica Johnson’s sound design delivered lyrics and dialogue clearly.
When you hear “The Arms of My Love” and the confetti falls and the audience buzzes with the feel good, you have seen a new “Cinderella” packed with fun and loaded with modern values. For tickets call the Box Office at (707) 588-3400 or go online: www.spreckelsonline.com.