by Adam Cohen
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is given an animated, electric revival at Paper Mill Playhouse. The production is absolutely top notch, highly entertaining and extremely fun. Children of all ages will find themselves smiling from the opening notes.
The story, well you know it, features Ella (Ashley Blanchet) the mistreated orphan who serves her curt stepmother Madame (Dee Hoty) and her two stepsisters Charlotte (Angel Lin) and Gabrielle (Rose Hemingway). Meanwhile, Prince Topher (Billy Harrigan Tighe) is slaying giants and dragons and straining at the responsibilities of ruling. He’s guided by the wise and cunning Sebastian (Christopher Sieber) who has his own plans for the kingdom. To distract Topher from the kingdom’s true political state, a royal ball is set to find a wife for the prince.
The charitable and kind Ella, with her 1,000-kilowatt smile and beautiful singing voice, selflessly gives money to Crazy Marie (Donna English). Once the ball is announced and Ella expresses a desire to go, Marie springs into action as a fairy godmother must. Pumpkins are transformed into coaches. Mice become horses. And the neighborhood raccoon and fox find themselves as coachmen. Ella is off to the ball in a resplendent gown (thanks to lovely costuming by the legendary William Ivey Long) and Venetian glass slippers. There, she and Topher meet, dance, flirt, and then part as Ella has a magical curfew.
Playwright Douglas Carter Beane has updated the book from the original 1950s TV movie. There are arch political comments and wisecracks aplenty. But the sumptuous score and choreography (JoAnn M. Hunter) enliven the evening. Hunter’s work is graceful and fun. Ivey Long’s costumes, especially the quick change of Ella and Marie, is bewitching.
Blanchet has a winsome smile, easy grace, lovely voice and she truly makes for a captivating Ella. Matching her energy and agility in dance, Tighe is a dashing, youthful prince. Their chemistry is palpable. As Charlotte and Gabrielle, Lin and Hemingway are sufficiently spunky and comically ungracious, but each have minds and personalities of their own. They make a nice tandem. Hoty is an expert, with verve, comedic timing and her own vocal expertise. Sieber mines every laugh. The delights are boundless.
Then there’s the lush score, going hand in hand with truly amazing singing. “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” are magnificent. “Impossible” and “I’m Possible” are pert and engaging. This is a fairy tale through and through, with a lot of simple magic – comedic timing, ambitiously well executed choreography, lovely costumes and sets, and a whole bunch of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs. You and your family will believe in magic.
Run time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with intermission.
Tickets and more information at papermill.org The magic runs through December 29th.
Paper Mill Playhouse is located on 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn NJ 07041