Cinderella

(This article was amended on November 24, 2012 from its original version.)

‘Tis the season when many daddies and mommies want to spoil their little girls, by taking them to that special performance, filling their eyes and ears with enough magical sparkle to feed memories for years to come. Olney Theatre Center has brought back its Cinderella to become just such a fitting family tradition, albeit crafting it with less supernatural magic than good values topped with a big dollop of optimism to ward away all challenges.

The musical of Cinderella was written in 1957 by Rodgers and Hammerstein to create a prime time television special for Julie Andrews.  The show has all the earmarks of that period’s values, and it was devised for a true musical star, one who personified purity in character and voice. It doesn’t even try to excavate the darker family psychology imbedded in the original fairy tale but treads ever so lightly on the story’s central theme of an abused girl chafing to escape her unlovely and unloving family.

Jessica Lauren Ball and Terry Burrell (Photo: Stan Barouh)

This presents a bit of a problem for director Bobby Smith, but he has chosen to honor the intentional vanilla confection of the piece and carry it through the entire work visually and musically. Our pretty-as-a-picture heroine doesn’t have a smudge on her face. She cries sparkling tears and dreams in her “own little room” about a prince who might rescue her.

Jessica Lauren Ball’s Cinderella is so wholesome she looks as if she’d just stepped off a farm in Indiana.  She charms us with her incandescent smile and guilelessness. Eschewing the pop vocal belt so prevalent in Broadway-style musicals now, Ball gives us instead a consistently beautifully-produced sound that harkens back to a musical era when “legit singing” was prized. When Cinderella steps on stage in her ball gown, featuring a turquoise balloon skirt with sparkles cropped mid-calf, she looks like she might be heading for a fifties’ prom night.

It’s a charming production, but it doesn’t totally solve the problem of the book, and can’t lift off from merely being sweetly entertaining. There’s no truly evil villain or conflict to drive the story. The king and queen, played with a cozy domesticity by Carole Graham Lehan and Dan Manning, seem to have recently downsized their royal quarters and simply want the best for their son. Their reasonableness, however, doesn’t create sparks in the premise of why put together this cockamamie idea of a princess-questing ball in the first place. Moreover, Cinderella’s stepmother and sisters, played delightfully by Donna Migliaccio as mére and Tracy Lynn Olivera and Jamie Kelton (last seen here as Sally in You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown) as les jeune filles, end up more silly than evil and, so clumsy in their scheming, that while the performers are highly entertaining as clowns they hardly pose a formidable obstacle in the plotline.

Even Terry Burrell [as Fairy Godmother] and Kevin S. McAllister [as royal steward Lional], can’t quite pull off  the forward movement of the drama.  There was one moment when Burrell sends Cinderella off to the ball. Her voice cracks as she says, “You are as beautiful as your mother ever was,” revealing that this indeed may be her mother-protector spirit. It was a lovely moment, and I so wished for more of such.

Donna Migliaccio (back) as Stepmother and Jaimie Kelton and Tracy Lynn Olivera as Stepsisters (Photo: Stan Barouh)

But Olney has the demographics and the appetite for just such sweetness. To truly understand that one must stand in the lobby of Olney Theatre Center. Not only is there a giant pumpkin coach, sitting plump in the center of the space, but it looks so fetching that it requires signs to keep the young princesses, all attired as if they too are going to a ball, from climbing in.  Plenty have their pictures taken in front of this orange edifice. And it’s not just the 7-12 year old girls who have dressed up in princess dream outfits. There were several Olney patrons who might legitimately be called adults who had donned tiarras, waiting hopefully, one assumes, for a dance wth the prince.

The pre-show buzz in the lobby is just as much part of the entertainment as the musical itself. People stand in line for magic wands and tiaras or sugary confections. Armed with crackerjacks and candy in wrappers, young and old descend to the theatre to munch and rattle their way through the two hours’ entertainment. (Theatre rules, such as “open your candy wrappers before the show,” have been jettisoned to entice yet another generation of theatre goers to buy into the magic of theatre.)

Inside the theatre, the proscenium arch has been decorated with wooden cut out scrolling like a richly illumined manuscript.  Designer James Fouchard keeps the set pieces to an absolute minimum to keep the story telling aspect to the fore.  When the ensemble enters for the first number, Pei Lee’s vibrantly colored costumes reinforce the delightful storybook nature of the production.

Everyone in the cast has had great fun creating this work, it seems, and that fun is infectious. Migliaccio commands the stage in Lee’s over the top costume for her character. In her long, scalloped black skirt and her plum then peacock silk jackets, and with her turban and tight black spit curls framing her angular face, she looks like a deliciously poisonous Cruella Deville. The actress has a wicked sense of comic timing, and it comes to the fore especially with her frustration over her two embarrassingly anti-social daughters. Then, suddenly, she exhibits the same inexcusable behavior, as in “a family that snorts together…”

Olivera and Kelton as the wicked stepsisters are equally engaging. The casting was terrific pairing these actresses up, as physically Olivera dwarfs her diminutive sister, and the business these two had developed in rehearsal consistently brought screaming laughter from the audience.

From the first number, I couldn’t quite believe the imagination that went into their outrageous outfits. How to describe the full picture? – polka dots stockings over black Mary Jane shoes, black design on white poufy organza skirts, shocking pink-and-green plaid silk bodices, topped with their carrot-colored hairdos and silly pill-box hats. Olivera as Grace bounced like a giant balloon in her outfit on and off the sofa, the floor, and her sister, while Kelton, as Joy, struggled, hilariously at times, with basic concepts of comprehensions and motor skills. I might have to return just to listen to Olivera’s studiously orated poem to the prince – in pig latin  and watch soon thereafter the sisters’ moving potted plant routine as they eavesdrop in the garden the prince courting Cinderella.

Recommended
Cinderella
Set to close December 30, 2012
Olney Theatre
Olney Theatre Center
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $26 – $54
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets
Matthew John Kacergis as the Prince seemed doomed to play the straight man to all the female shenanigans.  Yet he was one of the few characters allowed to have honest-to-goodness moments, and proved himself the most “contemporary” in temperament. When he opened his mouth to sing, he commanded a strong, clear tenor sound. Kacergis and Ball make an appealing happily-ever-after duo, finely blending their voices in numbers like “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” “Ten Minutes Ago” and “The Sweetest Sounds”, originally from No Strings and added as of the film version.

Director Smith is himself a fine performer of uncommon abilities, what in the biz is called a triple threat – he sings, acts and dances. While he directed the performers in delightful comic invention, it felt odd that the dancing in the show fell a little flat. Choreographer Ilona Kessell seemed not to have had enough time to invent a way for the dance numbers not to feel boxed in the set.

One other quibble is with the puppets. I’m dopey-crazy for puppets, but these mice looked more like large rats, so that I understood perfectly Migliaccio’s piercing scream, while the feline resembled not so much a cat as some feral thing in transition.

Tut tut. One of the lines Cinderella learns from her prince is, “Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.” If this is what the little girls in the audience are meant to take away, then we should do the same.  There is plenty to respect in this production and much that offers delight.

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Cinderella . Music by Richard Rodgers . Original book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Adapted for the stage by Tom Briggs from the teleplay by Robert L. Freedman . Directed by Bobby Smith. Choreographed by Ilona Kissell. Featuring Jessica Lauren Ball as Cinderella, Terry Burrell as the Fairy Godmother.  Matthew John Kacergis as Prince Christopher. Carole Graham Lehan as the Queen and Dan Manning as the King. Donna Miglaccio as Cinderella’s Stepmother. Cinderella’s Stepsisters: Jaimie Kelton (Joy) and Tracy Lynn Olivera (Grace). With Kevin McAllister, Austin VanDyke Colby, Parker Drown, Maria Egler, Willow Grey, Gracie Jones, Nick Lehan, Mary Payne and Chris Sizemore.  Costume design: Pei Lee. Produced by Olney Theatre Center. Reviewed by Susan Galbraith

Other reviews

Larry Bangs . Gazette.net
Jolene Munch Cardoza . Washington Examiner
Missy Frederick . Washingtonian
Mark Beachy . MDTheatreGuide
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post
Amanda Gunther . DCMetroTheaterArts

The cast talks about Cinderella.

Comments

  1. Yvonne Erickson says:

    I saw this show last weekend and all I can say is run! TO THE BOXOFFICE AT OLNEY! Grab your kid, your Mom, your husband, girlfriend, wife…or go alone. You’ll find plenty of friends in this fairytale land. Give yourself a great holiday gift and don’t miss it. And  tut, tut….I loved the puppets. Delightfully motley and funny!

  2. James Blurbit says:

    I saw Cinderella and thought it took the book and its characters to a delightfully different place… and in so doing, created an absolutely enchanting experinece…what Cinderella is supposed to be.
    Regarding the reviewer’s observation about the show lacking the drama of a truly evil character, fiddle-de-de and falderal. The review does not solve the problem that critics often take themselves so seriously that they disconnect with the production and give nothing to the audience they intend to serve.  
    The antagonists Bobby Smith created were not stereotypically evil as we have seen over and over in Disney productions. Instead they were hilariously obnoxious and villainous at the same time. For me it was a helpful change. It moved the story along and made for a most enjoyable evening of theatre.  The cast delivered with strong and memorable performances. Good job Olney!  
     

  3. Nothing says Happy Holidays like the derogatory phrase “token helpers” .  You should be ashamed.

  4. Matthew Kacergis says:

    There is nothing “token” about Terry or Kevin. This is a bizarre observation, and a rather moronic turn to this article. I am proud to have spend the past six weeks creating this production with these two actors. Susan, your comments are a disgrace to theatre, to critique, and to journalism. Do the right thing, amend the statement, and have the nerve (not to mention human decency) to own up to your mistakes and correct them.

  5. For the first time in my service as editor of DC Theatre Scene, I have removed a portion of a published review. It should not have been published, as others have noted in comments below. In doing so, I did a disservice to its author, to the director and the cast of Cinderella and our readers. I deeply respect Susan Galbraith. Her writings on opera and musical theatre have been inspiring. Her work on our behalf has been tireless. Bobby Smith, a well known performer, choreographer and director, has delighted us for years. I have known him personally, and have no doubt that he chose the best actors for each role, without regard to race. While I have not seen Ms. Burrell or Mr. McAllister in this production, their performances are always exceptional, and anyone would be fortunate to have them in their cast. I deeply regret the concern this error has caused the cast and company of Olney Theatre and our readers, to whom I extend my deepest apologies.

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