On Stage: Olney Theatre Center: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Olney Theatre Center Cinderella

Jessica Lauren Ball and Matthew Kacergis as Cinderella and Christoper- photo by Stan Barouh

She Said: Olney Theatre Center’s Cinderella

I love Cinderella. I love the Disney movie, but I adore the Rodgers and Hammerstein version much more. When I was a little girl my grandmother used to sing “In My Own Little Corner” to me before I even knew what a musical was! I was in the show in high school and fell in love with it even more! Olney Theatre Center created a charming and delightful holiday confection with their production of  Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

The only real problem that I had with the piece was their use of the newer script. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella first began as a television special in 1957 and then was re-filmed in 1965.  I much prefer to use the traditional version of this script. I was in high school and had recently been in the production when the 1997 version came out. The story was changed and new numbers were added. Frankly, as much as I liked Whitney Houston I didn’t like her as the Fairy Godmother and I didn’t like how they changed the part. The added narration combined with tree seemed to rip-off Into The Woods. I don’t like the modern language and displaced affectation that the script has either. I believe a script can be perfectly intriguing and understandable to a modern audience without having to sound like a Carly Rae Jepsen song. There was truly a moment when I thought they were referencing “Call Me Maybe” during the garden scene between the Cinderella and Christopher. While the script does take liberties and make changes that I don’t like, it still does a nice job of telling the story. Audiences will still see a radiant young woman, a ball, glass slippers, a handsome prince and cruel stepfamily. The show does still contain the lovely songs that have made this show a perennial favorite.

From an acting perspective this show is a feast of talent. Terry Burrell is an exciting and energetic Fairy Godmother. I don’t like what the modern script does to this part, but she handles it well. Jessica Lauren Ball is a wonderful Cinderella. Her performance of the “The Sweetest Sounds” is still pleasantly echoing in my mind. Donna Migliacco is a cruel and glamorous Stepmother. Tracy Lynn Olivera and Jamie Kelton play the Stepsisters with hilarious aplomb. Kelton in particular steals every scene.  Matthew John Kacergis is a thoughtful prince. I heard little girls muffled squeals and sighs when he took the spotlight. The entire ensemble is wonderful, almost flawless.

The whole show seemed to have been designed in a style that I think of as “Post-Modern Disney”.  What that means to me is a bright, jazzy, almost at times tongue in cheek visual reference to princesses and royal themes.  Disney has completely altered how modern audiences think of what it means to be a princess. The polishing and romanticizing can be effectively used without seeming like a direct reference to any particular Disney work. I think because the modern version of the Cinderella script was used this concept worked well. The colors were bright, but were muted enough to have a nod to a bygone era. James Fouchard’s set design was wonderful. I especially thought that the Village Square scene was lovely. It was so whimsical and I would have loved to walk around it. It really looked like a Disney park area!  The butcher’s shop cart covered with hanging meat. The Stepmother’s Manor House set was wonderful. I also loved the Royal Ballroom, too. The staircase was dramatic and lovely.

Pei Lee’s costumes for the production were stunning. Of course Cinderella’s ball gown was stunning, but I was intrigued by a number of other details. I loved the costumes of the villagers because they were so bright and had such a cheerful, almost An American in Paris, quality.   The stepsister’s costumes were whimsical and precious. Although it was hard for me to distinguish between their day dresses and their ball gowns. The Fairy Godmother wore a beautiful fascinator instead of a regular tiara; her entire ensemble was uniquely beautiful. My favorite detail by far was that Cinderella’s rags dress seemed to be made from an old party dress. If you think about it she wore castoffs and the three women she shared the house with would have never worn anything plain. I thought it added a strong element of realism to have this poor, young girl working in a ragged party dress. I suppose I could be reading too much into it, but it was a powerful choice for me.

It’s always wonderful to see a show that contains live music. The Cinderella Orchestra, under the direction of Christopher Youstra, enriched the production. I’m still humming the jazzy version of “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” – seriously, great orchestra!

I also have to say that the puppets were amazing. I hate, hate, HATE rodents. I mean hate them. But, the puppets used in this production were so endearing and given such cuteness from their puppeteers that I actually said “Aww” several times! The cat puppet was so lifelike and sweet. I hate cats, too. But, the puppets were so cute and the actors performing with them so talented that I really enjoyed them.  I’m not even usually a fan of having puppets in a “serious” show because I think they can be negatively distracting. Kudos to all the actors who worked with the puppets!

Olney Theatre Center has a great campus, too. I just wanted to mention how nice it was to be comfortable in my seat. I really appreciate being at ease when watching a show. Being warm and having a comfortable seat really helps me become more immersed in the world of the show.  The staff that was working in the house were all friendly.  I loved the big pumpkin carriage in the lobby! It was beautiful and I’m so mad that my camera batteries were dead! I was tempted to get in line after the show to have my picture taken with Cinderella and the carriage. All the little girls looked so excited, I admit I was jealous!

This was a wonderful show. During the holiday season it’s possible to get a little Christmas-ed out. I love Christmas carols and all, but sometimes you want to hear a story that doesn’t involve elves.  Cinderella has a wonderful message about believing in your dreams and treating others with kindness. Isn’t that a lovely sentiment for the Christmas season?

Kari’s Rating- 8

Olney Theatre Center Cinderella

Tracy Lynn Olivera and Jaimie Kelton as Grace and Joy, the stepsisters- photo by Sonie M. Matthews

Olney Theatre Center Cinderella

Jessica Lauren Ball and Terry Burrell as Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother- photo by Stan Barouh

He Said: Olney Theater Center’s Cinderella

I’ve always enjoyed the story of Cinderella.  Of course my first was from the Disney cartoon.  It may sound weird, but I really identified with Gus the mouse.  Also being someone who loved attention, I would say “Happy Birthday Cinderelly!” a lot because people thought it was funny.  At some point, Kari showed me the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella that was written for television, and I loved that version even more!  Olney Theatre Center has opted to use a different version of the script than I am used to, but was still very enjoyable.  The Fairy Godmother has a larger role than the original, and there are some additional songs, the addition of several mice and a cat, and some modernized plot points.  For the most part, this updated script works well.

The costumes worked well overall.  I loved the costumes for the prince in particular.  A lot of times in fairy tales, princes wear tights under a tunic.  I was grateful that here he always wears pants.  Tights are not pants.  The outfits he wore looked both young, and masculine.  The stepsisters had wonderful matching dresses as well.  The look helped them greatly in their portrayal as infantilized young women. The only bump in their costuming was at the ball, where they should have been wearing something more formal. The king’s nightclothes seemed much too plebian, and his smaller crown seemed out of place.

The sets were a distraction.  They did suggest place, but I kept looking at one set in particular and wondering why there was only half of a doorway.  The carriage was also disappointing, especially after seeing the beautifully done carriage on display in their lobby.

What makes this show work so well, is the performances.  Everyone was very good.  Jessica Lauren Ball was a very believable Cinderella, and performed her songs very well.  Matthew John Kacergis and Kevin McAllister had great chemistry as Christopher (the prince) and Lionel (his steward).  Kacergis lent an air of Gene Kelly to this part, coming off charming and kind-hearted.  McAllister shows great comic timing, while infusing his character with backbone tempered by his sense of duty.  The puppetry of the mice and the cat was also really impressive.   The cat in particular moved in a very natural way, and made you forget that someone was standing behind it as it moved around the stage.

The standout performances were easily Jamie Kelton and Tracy Lynn Olivera as Grace and Joy, the “evil” stepsisters.  Where normally they are played as just cruel and vindictive, here they are played as grown up children.  These two do such a good job with the tantrums and fights that little girls have, and also the full commitment children are capable of giving to certain tasks.  It was an amazing performance.  I’ve never seen the stepsisters in this light, and they’ll never feel the same to me.

Olney Theatre Center’s Cinderella is a great treat.

RJ’s Rating-9

Two  complimentary media tickets were provided by Olney Theatre Center for this post