Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Valley Youth Theatre's production of Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella is one of their best. With an exceptional cast, distinct direction that plays into the humor and heart of the show, winning choreography, and rich creative elements, it's a superb production full of magic, romance, and joy.
While you may be familiar with the fairy tale "Cinderella" and the main plot of the poor village girl who finds herself magically transformed with the help of her Fairy Godmother and who leaves her glass slipper at the royal ball for the Prince to discover who she truly is, the 2013 version also has a fun and modern sensibility. Douglas Carter Beane's book revises Hammerstein's original script and features a larger emphasis on the other members of the fairy-tale land. While Cinderella is still focused on her romance with the Prince, she also opens his eyes to the injustice that is happening to those around him and introduces him to the less fortunate members of his kingdom.
The updated score features the songs "Loneliness of Evening" and "Now is the Time," which were both cut from South Pacific, and "There's Music in You," which was written for the film Main Street to Broadway and also included in the 1997 TV version of Cinderella that starred Brandy and Whitney Houston. Beane's update of the original book by Hammerstein is fun and fresh as he manages to put a twist on some parts of the fairy tale we take for granted, especially with how Cinderella leaves behind the glass slipper. The new book is also chock-full of humor and several new characters while also providing multiple layers in almost all of the characters in the show, turning them from what were previously fairly one-dimensional and almost stereotypical individuals into more realistic people.
As Ella, Olivia Fearey evokes the right combination of sweetness, charm, and a deep connection with and care for her fellow characters in the show. Her vocals are clear and warm, with a nice connection to Hammerstein's lyrics. Her delivery of "In My Own Little Corner" does a wonderful job of projecting the excitement the character feels while also allowing us to get a sense of Cinderella's simple life and the daily struggles she faces. Charlie Hall is equally as good as Topher, the Prince. Hall clearly projects how Topher, at first, doesn't seem to care for much around him. When he begins to realize that he isn't being told the truth about the struggles some of the people in his lands have, Hall's ability to clearly depict that this is the wake-up call Topher needed as he becomes more in touch to the reality that is happening around him, is wonderful. Hall's singing voice shines on several of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most romantic songs, including "Ten Minutes Ago" and "Loneliness of Evening." Feary and Hall have a lovely and realistic connection with each other that makes you root to see their romance succeed.
Beane has expanded the part of Cinderella's fairy godmother so it's now a woman named Marie who also lives in the village and is already friends with Ella. Jessica Jacoby is fantastic as this woman with two very different sides to her. Her singing voice is exceptional and it soars on her act two solo, "There's Music in You," and she and Feary have a wonderful and caring connection with each other. As Cinderella's wicked stepmother, Giselle Sanchez Wilson does a great job in adding plenty of humor to the nasty character, and Donovan Denny is equally good, with great comic timing, as the other villain in the show, Topher's right-hand, Sebastian.
In supporting parts, Autumn Stanley and Gianna Arrighi are both great as Cinderella's two stepsisters, Gabrielle and Charlotte, respectively. Another change Beane made is to have Gabrielle be sympathetic to Cinderella, and Stanley is lovely in the role. Arrighi is hilarious as Charlotte, with great comic timing and a powerful singing voice that shines on "Stepsister's Lament." As one of the new characters Beane added, Luke Chester brings depth and a wonderful sense of honesty to Jean-Michel, who is trying to get the Prince to understand what's really going on in the kingdom. As Lord Pinkleton, Tanner Osborne's deep and strong singing voice shines. The large ensemble create an assortment of various characters with ease.
Under Bobb Copper's smart direction, the cast all create believable storybook characters. His pacing and scene transitions are perfect and he ensures the show has the right balance between humor, romance and heart. Nathalie Velasquez's choreography is excellent. Her dance sequences at the ball are lovely and danced well by Feary, Hall, and the entire cast. The music direction by Mark Feary delivers a warm sound from the large orchestra and the entire cast.
The set is a rental, but with two large movable pieces to depict Cinderella's home and the Prince's court, some large tree flats, along with a fairly large drop for the ball scenes and a lovely moveable horse-drawn carriage, it's quite creative. The costumes by Karol Cooper are excellent, including several that transform in the blink of an eye. Dawson Bryce Buckholz's lighting is wonderful, with pops of color plus a great use of shadows for the nighttime scenes. The sound design by Eric Johnson delivers crisp vocals and some fun sound effects.
While the main focus of Cinderella is still centered on the romance between the title character and the Prince, this fun and fresh update transforms the fairly simple fairy tale we all grew up with into one of social injustice as well as the battle of cruelty verses kindness. Valley Youth Theatre's production excels on every front in bringing this beloved, updated classic to life.
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella runs through August 27, 2023, at Valley Youth Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please call 602-252-8497 or visit www.vyt.com.
Director: Bobb Cooper