DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Providence School

The Providence School of Jacksonville, a private school with an enrollment of almost 1,400 students, presented its annual musical during April 12 -13, 2018 at the school campus on Hodges Boulevard. This year’s production of Cinderella was fantastic, and an admirable showcase for meticulously worked out performances filled with excitement.

The production included eighty cast and crew members, and many other students, staff, and volunteers participated in other roles. We counted over fifty people who worked on building the set, which was designed by Candace Dickens, and at least thirty student ushers who helped audience members find seating. Producer/Director Jennifer Hudson was also the musical director and on keyboard, leading the spectacular sixteen-piece orchestra.

Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is probably one of the best- known fairy tales, with roots that date back for centuries. Cinema pioneer Georges Mèilés produced the first known film version of the story in 1899. Rogers & Hammerstein created a well-received musical version written for television in 1957. Providence’s version was a stage adaptation with a new book by Douglas Beane, that opened on Broadway in 2013 and was nominated for nine Tony awards.

The plot concerns Ella (Hayley Stoddard), an orphaned teenage girl, who is treated as a servant by Madame (Brynne Tolentino), her cruel stepmother. Madame has no kindness for Ella but makes a point of pampering her two daughters, Charlotte (Angela Pisano) and Gabrielle (Alyson Culbertson). And while Charlotte endlessly belittles Ella, in accordance with the original story’s narrative, Gabrielle is surprisingly supportive.

An announcement from the palace that Prince Topher (Seth Pringle), the handsome heir to the kingdom’s throne, will be giving a ball is met with frenzied joy by the citizens. Madame and her daughters will be attending; Ella, of course, will remain at home.

But Ella’s plans change when she discovers she has a fairy godmother.  Marie (Allison Matthews) lives in the village and dresses as a little old lady. With a twist of her agile body, she transforms her shoddy coat into a gorgeous gown, and then waves a magic wand to transform Ella’s servant attire into a lovely gown coupled with glass slippers sparking with diamonds. Marie changes a pumpkin into a stylish couch, and then warns Ella that gown and coach will disappear at midnight.

This version includes an interesting subplot concerning the kingdom’s future: the prince’s parents have recently died, and the country is being run by his adviser Sebastian (Nathan Yee), a corrupt government official who is assisted by Lord Pinkleton (Stovie Weems). In contrast, Jean-Michel (Mathew Welcome) is an assured young man with plans for social change.

Others in featured roles include Fox Puppet (Megan Nobles), Fox Coachman (Jackson Lederman), Raccoon Puppet (Bryan De Padua) and Raccoon Footman (Molly Campbell).

The cast included an ensemble of twenty-four actors and dancers. Stephanie Riner choreographed with precision and razzle-dazzle, especially evident in the numbers that filled the large stage. The costumes by Bev Goldstein were picture-perfect, transporting us to another time and place. All the minor roles were carefully portrayed. The voices in the twenty-two songs were outstanding and we especially liked “Impossible” with Marie & Ella and “Do I Love You Because Your Beautiful” by Topher & Ella.

It is such a pleasure to see a production on this stage. We have been here for previous shows, most recently for Silent Victory, a Veterans Day musical tribute. Notably, large video screens are mounted high up on the wall on both sides of the stage, so that every seat in the Providence School of Jacksonville auditorium is a front row seat.

The Production Crew included Jennifer Hudson (Director, Producer, Musical Director); Stephanie Riner (Assistant Director, Choreographer); Bev Goldstein (Costume Designer); Bill Boothman (Lighting Designer); and Milana Wiltshire (Sound Designer).

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.