Story: In an updated version of the classic fairy tale, Ella – derisively referred to as Cinderella by her caustic stepmother Madame because of her propensity for sitting close to the hearth – is forced to handle all of the manual labor for her stepmother and two stepsisters following the death of her father.
One day, she gives water to the kingdom’s Prince Topher and he is impressed with her kindness and good nature. The orphaned prince is manipulated by his scheming prime minister Sebastian to throw a ball, at which the eligible young women of the kingdom will meet him, with Sebastian’s hope that the prince will marry soon afterward.
Sebastian hopes to keep the kingdom’s oppressive policies against most of its residents intact, something youthful firebrand Jean-Michel protests from his soapbox. While the women of the kingdom prepare for the ball, Madame informs Ella to get her stepsisters Charlotte and Gabrielle dressed for the occasion. As for Ella, she is instructed to stay home.
Ella’s friend, Crazy Marie, tells her that she can have a better life, and soon reveals herself to be Ella’s fairy godmother. Marie turns Ella’s animal friends and a pumpkin into a fancy, horse-drawn coach and sends Ella to the ball in a spectacular gown.
The prince is unimpressed with any of the women until shortly before midnight when Ella arrives. The mysterious young woman impresses the prince with her intelligence and good nature, but she leaves at the stroke of midnight. The next day, Prince Topher informs Sebastian to announce a royal banquet for that evening in the hope that the young woman who enchanted him will appear.
When Madame and her daughters talk about the previous evening, Ella’s specific details about the ball invite suspicion. She confides in the good-natured Gabrielle that she is the mystery woman, while Gabrielle reveals her own love for Jean-Michel. The royal banquet offers an opportunity for each of them to achieve true happiness in a better kingdom for all.
Highlights: The Muny presents its seventh production of the time-honored children’s classic, this time its premiere version of the long-awaited, 2013 Broadway musical with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane. Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge takes shrewd advantage of The Muny’s updated stage with this flashy presentation.
Other Info: Beane’s adaptation is an attempt to update the fairy tale, which has been around for more than 2,000 years, although the most popular Western version goes back to French author Charles Perrault 1697 story.
The original musical version by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, who also wrote the book, appeared on TV in 1957, drawing 107 million viewers to the CBS special, or a stunning 60 percent of the U.S. population at the time. It starred an unknown Julie Andrews in the title role.
Two more TV versions were made in 1965 and 1997, while various Muny productions were staged in 1961, 1965, 1980, 1990 (Cinderella on Ice), 1995 and 2003. Nearly 9,500 patrons were on hand Monday evening for this installment, which includes additional lyrics by Beane, David Chase and Bruce Pomahac.
There are plenty of bells and whistles to enhance this version, including Nathan W. Scheuer’s playful video design which features giants and dragons and griffins, oh, my, as well as multi-hued enhancement of the dazzling, violet-based set designed by Paige Hathaway. It’s all handsomely illuminated under Rob Denton’s imaginative lighting design.
Costumes designed by Robin L. McGee range from the lavish gown adorning Cinderella to the humorously garish garb of Madame, which can bring a shock to the system, all enhanced by the whimsical wig design of Kaitlyn A. Adams. The puppet design and creation by Puppet Kitchen International, Inc. and Eric Wright is most especially enchanting as the foxes, raccoons and horses sent to guide Cinderella in her pumpkin carriage.
Mikaela Bennett’s beautiful voice in the title role deftly handles numbers such as In My Own Little Corner and Jason Gotay makes for a dashing and decent prince who happens to have a fine voice of his own, showcased on Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful? There’s also accomplished work by Victor Ryan Robertson as Sebastian’s aide Lord Pinkleton, energizing the crowd with his smooth voice and stylish delivery on The Prince Is Giving a Ball.
Camping it up to the delight of the kids in the audience are John Scherer as the pompous Sebastian, Alison Fraser as the self-absorbed Madame and Jennifer Cody as the vapid Charlotte. Stephanie Gibson and Chad Burris have fun as the odd-duck duo of Gabrielle and Jean-Michel, while Ashley Brown brings warmth to the roles of Marie and the Fairy Godmother.
Greg Anthony Rassen brings robust musical direction to the agreeable music, complemented by Danny Troob’s orchestrations and Chase’s musical adaptation and arrangement. Josh Walden’s cheery choreography is given a fine rendering by the cast, including The Muny ensemble and The Muny youth ensemble on several large numbers.
Beane’s updated book works to deliver a contemporary message while keeping the traditional story largely intact. The kids appeared to have quite a good time at The Muny’s latest and handsome rendezvous with Cinderella.
Company: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through July 16
Tickets: Free to $100; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Photos courtesy of Phillip Hamer