Being obedient and doing as one is told are usually good traits instilled in the earliest ages and rewarded with parental approval and societal regard. When obedience is compelled without choice or reason, however, that can become an unbearable curse, as seen in the delightfully creative Ella Enchanted showing at Adventure Theatre MTC.
Thanks to the errant “gift” of a well-meaning fairy, Ella must obey all requests as commands, no matter what. This creative adaptation, book by Karen Zacarias and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, presents Ella’s life passage through childhood, adolescence, loss of her mother and ending up with a Stepmother and sisters who misuse and abuse her, mocking her relentlessly and shunning her to servant status. If this sounds a bit similar to another famous fairy tale, the creative designers add twists of originality that give this version a unique spin of its own.
Zacarias’ writing is particularly effective and oh so topical. Ella meets and befriends Char before she’s even aware of his princely standing –they’re just two like-minded buddies who enjoy languages and hanging out. Their special abilities come in handy when dealing with ogres and giants. (The script relays subliminal messages about the importance of pursuing hobbies and continually learning.)
Ella could succumb and be handicapped by her “gift,” but she uses ingenuity to work around awkward even painful experiences while enduring hardships that verge on hopelessness. Her mother coughs one moment, Ella attends her funeral services the next, and within seconds a step-mother is in the picture with her obnoxious girls in tow. Actually, Simone Lewis plays Hattie the diabolical mastermind while Shanta Parasuraman as Olive is more along for the ride, a bit slow on the uptake for a fun pair.
Malinda Kathleen Reese is truly enchanting as Ella, playing her with care and innocence and a whole lot of pluck. Reese captures the beauty and strength of a character who must navigate her journey using her own wits and tenacity while technically obeying every command. Reese shows how Ella deals with hardships and slights virtually on her own since all the usual safety nets have been yanked out from under her, including a Mother’s love. Javier Del Pilar plays Prince Char as fun-loving and earnest with great timing and delivery. In one of the best lines in the show, he’s flabbergasted why everyone is so fixated on using a dang slipper to find his true love!
Alison Daniels and Kurt Boehm bring seasoned experience to their multiple roles, and Lara Zinn is a standout as Lucinda, the fairy god-mother who finds a way to make a mess of whatever she touches. She’s a shoe maven with a heart of gold and so self-assured (or delusional), that she agrees to actually submit to one of her own “special gifts.” When she gets a rude awakening about the hardships she’s created, she radiates kindness and care to make amends, even giving Ella the shoes off her feet to help her on her way.
La Puma’s music and catchy lyrics move the story along with messages about the power of speaking, the importance of friendship, self-determination and persevering through difficult times. There’s even a lyric—“My voice, my choice!” that’s worthy of a return trip just to hear it in a family show.
Want to go?
at Adventure Theatre MTC
closes March 18, 2017
Details and tickets
Costumes by Robert Croghan reflect the circumstances of each character, from the simply dressed to ragamuffin attire for Ella, the ram-horn like head piece for step-mom Dame Olga, a rustic adventurous look for Char and, of course, glamorous attire for the ball. The open, centered set by Paige Hathaway is versatile enough to be a humble cottage, a forest clearing and even a castle complete with numerous pull-back curtains along the perimeter for entrances, exits and quick changes.
Kudos to the always remarkable Andrea “Dre” Moore for the amazing puppet designs. Ella as a youngster is a sweet life-sized scampering puppet, fluttery birds move in a flock, and the party scene with giants got special applause as actors wore huge heads and bodies danced with ease. It was stunning.
More effective than the movie version, Ella Enchanted at Adventure Theatre MTC is a winner in so many ways. Watching a young girl being buffeted by fate, cast off as worthless, then find her way and ability to just say “No,” is exciting, electric, and just about as good as it gets.
Ella Enchanted by Karen Zacarias . Adapted from the book by Gail Carson Levin . Music by Deborah Wicks La Puma . Directed by Mary Hall Surface . Cast: Kurt Boehm; Alison Daniels; Javier Del Pila; Simone Lewis; Shanta Parasuraman; Malinda Kathleen Reese; Lara Zinn . Music Director/Composer—Deborah Wicks La Puma . Choreographer—Michael J. Bobbitt . Scenic designer—Paige Hathaway . Costume designer—Robert Croghan . Lighting—Sarah Tundermann . Sound –Matt Otto . Properties and Puppets Designer—Andrea “Dre” Moore . Production Stage Manager—Martita Slayden-Robinson . Produced by Adventure Theatre MTC . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.