Be it the idea of wishes coming true or the hope of finding one’s charming prince or beautiful princess, fairytales possess lasting and almost universal appeal – perhaps none more so than the story of Cinderella. With a charming cast dancing and singing their way through Rodgers and Hammerstein’s popular score, Toby’s Dinner Theatre has put together a solid production of this tale of glass slippers and magic pumpkins.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s treatment of the rags to riches fable offers a more grown up perspective than that of Disney’s whimsical animated film. Tongue in cheek humor and a healthy dose of sarcasm nicely balance out the more saccharine elements of the story. A key example comes during the scene featuring the number “Impossible”, which the Fairy Godmother begins by refusing Cinderella’s wish to go to the ball. Only after Cinderella proves that she can make her own way without any magical help does Godmother relent and grant her wish. The refreshing twist nicely encapsulates Rodgers and Hammerstein’s emphasis on the human spirit and true to life relationships over magical, deus ex machina intervention.
The talented cast delivers a slate of satisfying performances. As Cinderella, Jessica Lauren Ball has everything you want from a fairytale maiden: a beautiful singing voice, a dazzling smile, and an air of effortless grace. With “In My Own Little Corner”, she sweeps merrily around the stage, regaling the audience with the joys of stealing away from the pressures of work, if only for a little while. It’s a brilliant performance, made all the more impressive by the fact that her only scene partners are a collection of puppets representing her animal friends.
However, in their few scene as Ugly Stepsisters, David James and Darren McDonnell steal the show. Director Lawrence B. Munsey’s inspired decision to cast male actors in these iconic female roles has paid huge comedy dividends. Their squabbling and preening, made all the more ridiculous by their mannish appearances and judicious use of deep bass, provide the best laughs of the show, culminating in the hilarious “Stepsister’s Lament”.
Mary Searcy, the fairy godmother, makes the most of limited stage time to make a lasting impact. Searcy, previously seen at Toby’s in Dreamgirls and as Amneris in Aida, contributes powerhouse vocals and a sarcastic sensibility that nicely compliment Cinderella’s demure persona. Her interpretation of “There’s Music in You”, featuring chill-inducing vocal belts and impressive runs, ends the show on a high note.
There are a few rough patches in this otherwise entertaining evening. While Matthew Schleigh makes a charming Prince, his tendency to constantly push the tempo disrupts several important numbers, including “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful”. In rushing through certain legato sections, he misses the chance to fully develop his romantic chemistry with Cinderella, thereby robbing the show of some of its emotional weight. While the costumes and sets are impressive for a small production, the puppets leave much to be desired. The marionettes might be only a minor thematic element, but it’s difficult to concentrate on the music or storyline with constant appearances from mice the size of table lamps, a cat that is more like a shaggy, medium-sized dog, and Cinderella’s strange winged friend, which one might describe as an unhealthy seagull.
That being said, Toby’s production of Cinderella is a crowd-pleasing success. A strong cast and great score overcome the minor performance and puppet-related issues to produce a night of worthwhile entertainment. It’s the theatrical equivalent of a warm, fuzzy blanket, arriving just in time to ward off the onrushing winter chill.
Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Lawrence B. Munsey
Music direction by Ross Rawlings
Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia
Reviewed by Ben Demers
John Harding . ExploreHoward