Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Ella Enchanted, the Musical
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Sutton Foster with Seth Rudetsky, A Christmas Story, Alan Cumming: Legal Immigrant and It's a Wonderful Life

Michelle Chin
Photo by Tim Trumbule
Gail Carson Levine's 1997 young adult novel "Ella Enchanted" put a somewhat modern twist on the classic fairy tale of Cinderella. While the 2004 film added several new characters and meandering subplots, the recent musical adaptation sticks close to the plot of the book and eliminates some of the supporting characters, which makes for a fast and fun 80-minute musical adventure. Childsplay presents the Phoenix premiere of the 2016 musical with a cast of some of the best Valley musical theatre performers, including many Childsplay regulars, and a bevy of gorgeous creative elements.

The plot follows Ella, who right after she was born was given the "gift" of constant obedience by her fairy godmother Lucinda after she was tired of hearing the young Ella crying. Lucinda figured this way she could simply tell Ella to stop crying and she would stop and that being obedient would make her a good wife. As Ella grows up she realizes the gift she was given is actually a curse, since she is forced to do anything she is told to do, and her mother instructs her to keep it a secret. When her mother dies and her father remarries, Ella finds herself with a wicked stepmother and two nasty stepsisters. Only her budding friendship with the dashing Prince Charmont gives Ella a glimmer of hope in her harsh world. Can the strong-willed Ella find a way to overcome the curse?

As in the novel, Karen Zacarías' stage adaptation, with music and additional lyrics by Deborah Wicks La Puma, adds a big shot of girl power into the character of Ella, which makes her a more forceful and realistic young woman than previous versions of the Cinderella character. She's no longer just a poor girl hoping to marry the prince. While most of the musical numbers are short and fairly forgettable, there are some good lyrics and charming melodies. The abridgment of the novel makes for a brisk show, though (spoiler alert) it does somewhat shortchange the big moment when Ella finds her voice with an almost "blink and you miss it" line of dialogue, which might leave some audience members scratching their heads at just how Ella overcame the curse. However, the idea that using your intelligence to overcome your obstacles is a good message to project to children of all ages.

Fortunately, the top-notch cast, under Dwayne Hartford's expert direction, deliver performances rich in comedy and fantasy elements and create fun-loving fairy-tale characters. As Ella, Michelle Chin fashions a realistic young woman full of nuance. Chin projects youthful exuberance, sweetness and intelligence as this lovable girl who quickly realizes the drawbacks and possible disaster her spell could bring to both herself and the kingdom. Ella's quest to break the spell as soon as she can is beautifully displayed by Chin's urgency, spunkiness, and the passion she brings to the part.

The rest of the cast create unique characters and also play multiple parts with ease. Katie McFadzen is excellent as both Ella's caring mother and her devilish stepmother. Vinny Chavez is sweet, and endearing, and full of charm as the down to earth Prince Charmont. As Ella's two stepsisters, Kat Bailes and Savannah Alfred are, respectively, ditzy and bossy, while Beau Heckman displays nice touches of regret and a conflicted nature as Ella's absent father. Trisha Hart Ditsworth infuses the flighty Lucinda with a carefree nature and plenty of humor. The entire cast display beautiful voices that excel on the many songs in the show under Alan Ruch's solid music direction.

Aaron Jackson's beautiful scenic design evokes a magical fairy-tale world and features some impressive drops with cutout elements that create a multi-layered fantasy forest. William Kirkham's lush lighting adds a range of gorgeous colors, and Connie Furr-Soloman's costumes deliver a non-stop parade of rich fabrics and patterns that tie directly into each character. There are also some creative puppet designs for the ogres, giants, and fantasy creatures that Ella encounters, providing plenty of humor.

Like the novel, Ella Enchanted, the Musical is a smart, funny and modern updating of the classic Cinderella story that loses none of the charm of the original while adding in some important pointers on the value of friendship, common sense, and the need to find your "voice." Childsplay's production features a superb cast and excellent creative aspects, making for a fun, family-friendly musical with a valuable message.

Ella Enchanted, the Musical, through December 30th, 2018, at Childsplay, Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe St., Phoenix AZ. Performances are Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are on sale at or at the Herberger box office, 602-254-7399

Director: Dwayne Hartford
Music Direction: Alan Ruch
Choreography: Brant Michaels
Scenic Design: Aaron Jackson
Costume Design: Connie Furr-Soloman
Lighting Design: William Kirkham
Sound Design: Elena Perez
Stage Manager: Rebekah Carriere

Ella: Michelle Chin
Prince Charmont/Servant 2: Vinny Chavez
Mother/Dame Olga/ Menagerie Creature/Ogre/Giant Bride: Katie McFadzen
Lucinda/Bird/Mistress Manners: Trisha Ditsworth
Hattie/Servant 1/Menagerie Creature/Ogre/Giant: Savannah Alfred
Olive/Servant 3/Menagerie Creature/Ogre/Giant: Kat Bailes
Sir Peter/ Menagerie Creature/Ogre/Giant Groom/Squire: Beau Heckman