There is a reason “Cinderella” is not thought of as one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s more notable achievements. Set against some of the finest American musical theater ever written “South Pacific,” “Oklahoma,” and “The Sound of Music,” among others it is a frothy little piece. Cotton candy comes to mind very sweet, a little sticky and gone before you know it.
The saving grace of the Olney Theatre Center’s production is that it comes along during the holiday season and is perfectly suited for children. In many ways, it is closer to being a children’s show than it is a real, grown-up Broadway musical.
The temptation in staging “Cinderella” may be in trying too hard to wring something memorable out of material that is distinctly unremarkable. Director Bobby Smith, who as an actor has been known to camp it up from time to time, has made that mistake here. The Fairy Godmother is a little too “hip” and Lionel, the Prince’s attendant, is way over-the-top fop. The stepsisters are caricatured to the point of being predictable, and some of the dialogue has been tinkered with in an attempt to be trendy and perhaps find a laugh or two where there were none.
None of which is to say that “Cinderella” is not an enjoyable evening at the theater. Aside from being pleasant family entertainment, Olney’s “Cinderella” has something more to commend itself. It has Jessica Lauren Ball. She was the perfect Maria in “The Sound of Music” a year ago. Once again, she lights up the Olney stage with her natural, easy presence and her enchanted singing. In “The Sound of Music,” scenes came to life simply because she was in them. She has that something special and unnamable in a performer that reaches across the footlights and gently draws you in. It all appears effortless with her. The fact that she is also very well trained (London Dramatic Academy) and there is an economy and grace to her every move and gesture doesn’t hurt.
Unfortunately, in this case, others in the cast simply pale in comparison. Matthew John Kacergis is a credible Prince with a strong and commanding singing voice. However, he just doesn’t have that dashing prince presence about him and when you put him next to Ms. Ball, he pretty much disappears. It doesn’t help that Smith has him playing the Prince as mostly petulant and arrogant which rubs directly against the grain of what is supposed to attract Cinderella to him. The Prince says that everyone should be treated with respect and kindness and then proceeds to abuse his attendant and shoo people away in a less than kindly manner.
I also found it very strange that the stepsisters go to the prince’s ball in their everyday clothes. In every version of “Cinderella” I have ever seen, whether opera, ballet or movie, much ado is made over the sisters preparation for their big moment with the prince. Particularly when the stepmother, deftly played by Donna Migliaccio, declares she has a whole week to adorn them and proceeds to do nothing, it makes no sense.
Fairy tales have a lot of latitude in being nonsensical, or magical as the case may be, but Smith’s directorial choices gloss over some glaring inconsistencies that are distracting in what is otherwise a well put together production. Settings, costumes, lighting and some imaginative puppetry are all up to the usual high standards at Olney and help make an otherwise mundane evening attractive and fun.
So, don’t let this Grinch steer you away. The kids will enjoy it and it’s a rare opportunity to take the whole family out for something everyone will enjoy. Whether it’s “Cinderella” or Paul Morella’s scintillating one-man version of “A Christmas Carol,” Olney hits the spot for holiday entertainment.