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Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Ella Enchanted: The Musical
Dobama Theatre
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's reviews of Potted Potter—The Unauthorized Harry Experience and Black Nativity

Joshua McElroy and Natalie Green
Photo by Steve Wagner
Ah, to be young again, especially to be age 5, which is apparently the level that Gail Carson Levine's children's book "Ella Enchanted" was geared for, as is the ensuing musical adapted by Karen Zacarías with music by Deborah Wicks La Puma. On the plus side, Ella Enchanted: The Musical has a strong start and ending (especially during the rocking curtain call). It is the stretched out two hours between that is a bit troublesome.

Ella (Natalie Green), not to be confused with "Cinderella," lives with her mother (Amy Fritsche) in the magical land of Frell, which along with humans is populated with elves, ogres, dragons, unicorns, giants, and a magical bird, among other creatures. As a newborn, when her mother cannot get her to stop crying, Ella's fairy godmother (Tina D. Stump) gives her the "gift" of obedience: when anyone orders Ella to do something, she must obey, no matter what.

When Ella's mother suddenly dies, her traveling father Sir Peter (Eugene Sumlin) returns long enough to marry, who else, the evil step-mother (also played by Amy Fritsche) and they pack Ella away to finishing school along with the two evil step-sisters, Hattie (Kelly Elizabeth Smith) and Olive (Neely Gevaart), who discover Ella's secret curse. Prior to being sent off to Mistress Manner's school, she meets and becomes friends with Prince Charmont (Joshua McElroy), or Char to his friends.

While at the school and after being relentlessly bullied by the step-sisters and ordered to tell Prince Charmont that she hates him during the grand ball, Ella decides to do a bibbidi-bobbidi-I'm out of here as she escapes the school for a series of adventures.

Considering what director Nathan Motta had to work with, he is able to get a lot out the script and score through the use of theater magic. Much of the pixie dust comes in the form of T. Paul Lowry's video projections that really add sparkle. The lighting design by Marcus Dana adds greatly to the show, along with the sound design by Jeremy Dobbins. Add to this Robin Vanlear, Robin Heinrich, and Sue Berry's puppet design (magic bird, giants, horse and unicorn), along with the costuming by Colleen Bloom (especially the ogres), and you have a visual treat.

The cast is strong, with petite Natalie Green charming as the woman/child Ella, Tina D. Stump as "de fairy godmother" saving her best for last in a rousing rendition of Aretha Franklin's "Think" at the curtain call, Amy Fritsche as the nice mom and later nasty step-mother (many in the audience could not tell it was the same person), and Kelly Elizabeth Smith and Neely Gevaart as the evil step-sisters. The rest of the cast—Eugene Sumlin as Sir Peter, Joshua McElroy as Prince Charmont, and Madeline Krucek and Arif Silverman—do fine jobs in their roles as well.

As for the "orchestra" of Jordon Cooper, keyboard one, Rachel Woods, keyboard two, and Justin Hart, percussion, it would have been nice to round out the sound a bit more with additional musicians. Considering the unmemorable music they have to work with, it is an adequate job.

The real fall-short factor of the show is its length—it's one hour tale stretched over two hours. For some, this will not be a problem. Though it was mostly adults in attendance at he performance I attended, this really is a show to bring young children to. They will appreciate the Disney-esque music, story and puppets far more than the adults, if they are willing to sit still for the duration.

Ella Enchanted: The Musical, through December 30, 2018, at Dobama Theatre , 22340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights OH. Tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 216-932-3396.

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