The Dual Critics review of “Cinderella” at Alhambra Theatre & Dining find it to be “A lively heartfelt charmer.”
The Alhambra Theatre opened “Cinderella,” a long-awaited summer musical on June 11th, 2020, which remains on stage through July 26th. The music is by Richard Rogers, the lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, with an updated book by the talented Douglas Carter Beane, who also provided a new book for “Sister Act” and wrote the Tony-nominated “Nance.”
The tale is an old one and well-known; the version we are most familiar with is based on “Cendrillon” a French story published in 1697. Georges Méliès released a film version in 1899 (YouTube has clips); Disney’s animated musical version was released in 1950. Rogers & Hammerstein’s wrote a version for television in 1957. Beane’s 2013 adaptation was the first to open on Broadway, and received nine Tony nominations.
Ella is portrayed by the lovely Olivia Zeisloft, whose previous Alhambra shows include “Shrek” and “Annie.’’ Ella is an orphaned teenager, who is doing the best she can to cope with her current circumstances. She is terribly treated as a servant by Madame, her monstrously cruel stepmother. The role is portrayed with vitriolic vigor by Kimberly Cooper York.
Madame pampers her daughters, Charlotte (Marissa Volpe) and Gabrielle (Victoria Jackson). She wants the very best for those daughters. And while Charlotte joins her mother in belittling Ella, Gabrielle provides sympathy and support.
The kingdom is energized by an announcement that “The Prince is Giving a Ball!” The rulers have died, and the handsome Prince Topher (Melvin Nash) is preparing to ascend to the throne. His influential advisors have persuaded him that it is time to marry, and the best way to find a bride is to invite the ladies of the kingdom to a lavish event.
The Lord Chancellor Sebastian is portrayed by Alec Hadden, a corrupt and sinister plotter, who is currently running the country until Topher is crowned. Lord Pinkleton, portrayed by Lee Hamby, fully supports Sebastian’s schemes. This is Hamby’s 40th production on the Alhambra stage and he commands the attention of all with his ringing announcement of the Ball.
Citizens throughout the kingdom are overjoyed. Madame and her daughters will of course be attending. Ella will help them get ready for the ball, but will, of course, remain at home, sweeping the hearth among other chores.
But then things change -this is a fairy tale and Ella discovers she has a fairy godmother! Marie (Jennifer Hudson) lives in the village and appears initially as a poor elderly woman in shabby clothes. With magic lights from the sky and a twist and turn, she transforms her ragged coat into a splendid gown. A flick of a magic wand brings Ella an equally beautiful gown and sparkling glass slippers. And more – a pumpkin becomes a coach – a beautiful coach – attended by two footmen. Jennifer Hudson makes her Alhambra debut in this role. Off-stage, she is the director of choral and dramatic activities for Providence School of Jacksonville, where she previously directed a production of this show. She has a marvelous voice that she displayed in several songs. Costumes were provided by the school/Bev Goldstein-Costume Design/Construction.
The story has an interesting subplot. John-Michael, portrayed by Rhys Kauffman, is an engaging fellow with plans for social change. And he has a reciprocated crush on Gabrielle.
The ensemble includes Erin Knowles, Hailey Hendrickson, Mitchel Burns, Loren Stone, Sade Crosby, Faith Knapp, Brandon Leporati, and Christopher Mandel. They played various roles in this high-octane production that was crisply staged and soundly performed. It turned out to be a lively heartfelt charmer.
The production was directed by Tod Booth with his customary flare. Cathy Murphy Giddens was the musical director; the wonderful voices sent everyone home with smile.
The Dual Critics went to a Father’s Day matinee. The seating was assigned following current guidelines for events. The food by Chef DeJuan Roy was, as always, delicious.
This show runs through July 26th, and will be followed by “Grease” during July 30th – September 20th. The theatre is located at 12000 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit alhambrajax.com or call 904-641-1212 for reservations.