by Kellie Abrahamson
While I consider myself a huge fan of the Alhambra, I hadn’t had a chance to visit since the theater reopened last December. So, it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to cover their latest production, Cinderella. My eight year old daughter and I got to explore the theater’s new upgrades and got a chance to see one of our favorite fairy tales come to life all in one afternoon.
If you haven’t made it out to see the new Alhambra, now is the time. The changes made to the building, from the new paint on the walls to the new linens to the updated bar and library areas, are pleasing to the eye and really bring the theater into the new millennium. In addition to the upgrades, it seems Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother waved her wand over common areas like the lobby and the library. Lovely purple banners line the walls, Cinderella memorabilia sits on shelves and thrones have been placed in the lobby giving theatergoers a perfect photo op. My daughter and I arrived early enough to take in all of this and snap a few pics before being seated. I strongly recommend you do the same as the lobby is completely jammed after the show, but more on that in a minute. Next up on our afternoon of magic was lunch. In the past food at the Alhambra seemed an afterthought. No more. With Chef Matthew Medure at the helm, our meal was, naturally, on point. Matinees are a kid-friendly affair with herb roasted chicken, ham, seafood Newberg, jasmine rice, broccoli & cheese and corn on the menu. Evenings are a bit more grown-up: grilled chicken breast on penne rosette, Salisbury steak in caramelized onion broth, herb roasted turkey with sage gravy, mashed potatoes, broccoli & cheese and corn. Both menus come with my daughter’s favorite part: dessert in the form of chocolate mousse and blueberry cobbler.
When the plates were cleared it was time for the show. If you’re expecting the Disney version of this classic fairy tale, you might be disappointed. The Alhambra is putting on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1957 production, which changes the names of some of the characters and has songs that are unfamiliar to most Cinderella fans. That said, the story itself remains intact and the production as a whole is an absolute delight. My daughter’s favorite character was, naturally, Cinderella herself (played by the lovely and talented Cara AnnMarie), but I was partial to the comedic rolls, particularly the stepsisters, Joy (Jessica Booth) and Portia (Bryce Erdman), and their mother (Lisa Clarson). I was used to the vicious vipers from the Disney portrayal but this version is so much more fun. Booth, Erdman and Clarson played it big, worked the room and brought the laughs from scene one.
One thing that Alhambra has always done well is utilizing the space they’re given. Their production of Cinderella is no exception. The actors use the entire room and even include the audience in the fun. One of the most memorable sequences, my daughter’s absolute favorite, was when the prince’s royal guard goes searching for the maiden who fit the glass slipper. Several audience members were candidates and were gracious enough to let the actors try the shoe on their own feet as they made their way back to the stage.
Part of the fun of a family-friendly show like this is the crowd it draws. Don’t be surprised if there are multiple mini- Cinderellas in attendance. Many of the little princesses we saw were decked out in their own ball gowns and emitted awed gasps at the grand reveal of their heroine in her own finery. They got an even bigger thrill after the show when Cinderella and her prince (played expertly by the dashing Joe Chisholm) came back on stage to pose for pictures with their fans. The rest of the cast, including the King (Tony Triano) and Queen (Lisa Valdini), Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (Millicent Sylvester) and her stepfamily, were also available for pictures out in the lobby.
My daughter and I had a wonderful time revisiting the Alhambra for Cinderella. I’ve never seen a bad show at this First Coast institution, but somehow the renovations and special touches made the experience that much better. The Alhambra is now living up to its full potential and I urge you to bring your family to this terrific production and see for yourself.
Cinderella will run through August 8. Tickets start at $42 for adults and $35 for children. Ticket price includes dinner, the show and parking. The Alhambra is doing something special during Saturday matinees. Little princes and princesses who arrive early (30 minutes before the show) will be treated to face painting, music, dancing and much more. These Prince & Princess Parties are no extra cost and are sure to be a hit with young Cinderella fans and their families. For more information on Cinderella and future productions call the box office at 641-1212 or visit www.alhambrajax.com.
Cinderella at Alhambra Theatre & Dining
by Kellie Abrahamson