Having seen the movie, the Royal Ballet, and even the opera, it just makes sense to finish off my Cinderella fixation with the puppet version. In my case, no matter how many renditions I see, the story never feels old, especially in the hands of the creative team at The Puppet Co in Glen Echo Park.
What’s especially endearing in this puppet variation, along with the totally whacked out funny feline, “Prince Charming,” performed by the inimitable puppet master,Christopher Piper, is the sweet vocalization of Cinderella herself performed by Emily Marsh. Her mannerisms exude a sense of enchantment in how she carries herself and cares for everyone around her no matter what her circumstances. Joshua Aaron Rosenblum brings the rest of the fun characters to life.
“Ella” is fresh and full of loveliness from her first entrance as she awaits exciting news from her dear father who has just returned from a long trip with a special surprise. Little does she know how much her life will turn upside down when his new wife and her frivolous daughters take over.
The Stepmother is a piece of work from her first entrance, pinched, white haired, and with withering expressions. Seeing the piece the second time, I appreciated how much Piper and crew embody the puppets with sensate emotions—the Stepmother stops, pauses, and while looking for Cinderella, even seems to be thinking about her next steps to assure her dominance in the household. It’s a masterful touch. In addition, the script explains how sweet Ella is sequestered to sleeping in the chimney ash and cinders and thus mocked in derision as Cinder-Ella. She takes it all in stride and tries to be as dutiful as she can, all while keeping her sense of decency to others, again, quite a full character load for a puppet.
At first. Cinderella anticipates attending the Ball along with all of the unmarried young ladies, a reflection of her initial confidence and sense of self. When she appears in a lovely white gown with red accented material that belonged to her mother, a touching tribute, the stepmother not only berates her for thinking she can leave her chores, but degrades the look and style of the dress, pulling the accents to taters right before our eyes, yes, we all gasped at the brazen heartlessness.
Humiliated and defeated, Cinderella retreats into a sobbing mess. Just when we wonder how she will ever live out her destiny, a puff of smoke ushers in a woodland magical sprite who assures the girl that she is loved and treasured, and that her goodness will be rewarded. Soon the squeaking mice, pumpkin and trusted kitty “Prince Charming” turn into majestic horses, a lovely carriage, and a dutiful groomsman fit for a princess. The dancing scene at the ball is joyful and exuberant as the couples move gracefully in a glorious semi-circle– no telling what was going on underneath the rods to make that happen, but it worked beautifully.
The costumes designed by Allan Stevens and created by MayField Piper are stunningly beautiful, particularly Cinderella’s glittering jewel-encrusted white gown and silver mask, along with the rest of the colorful entourage. Meanwhile, the Prince shows his true and simple heart by remaining in the brown rustic hunter garb that he wore from the start, offering lessons about humility and lack of pretension.
As the story concludes, the girl’s fate hangs precariously because of her sudden decision to stand her ground and reclaim her name. It’s a moment of bravery and self –assurance, and the refashioned script assures her just reward.
In his introduction, Piper notes there are over thirteen hundred variations of the beloved children’s story, Cinderella. This one reinforces the importance of kindness, care, and perseverance wrapped in fun and tickling glee that the entire family will treasure seeing again, and yet again.
Cinderella . adapted from the fairy tale by Christopher piper . Directed by Allan Stevens . Costumes designed by Allan Stevens . Produced by The Puppet Co . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson