Magical ballgowns, whimsical sets, talented performers and puppet animals—including a dragon—enchantingly combine in Musical Theatre West’s “Cinderella” to charm even the most evil of stepmothers. Continuing at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center through Dec. 18, this Broadway version of Rodger and Hammerstein’s original musical sparkles with enough charisma to engage both young and older audiences.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II based their 1957 musical on Charles Perrault’s classic fairy tale (“Cendrillon”in French) of a mistreated stepdaughter winning the prince’s heart at a palace ball with the help of her fairy godmother and glass shoes.
Douglas Carter Beane updated the musical for Broadway in 2013 with additional characters and storylines—albeit a bit thin—including a revolutionary subplot, more agency for the title character and a growth arc for the prince.
The new characters add interest and dimension to the original story, including a somewhat bemusing political revolution instigated by young radical Jean-Michel (a likable Jalon Matthews), who protests about the poorer residents of the kingdom having their land usurped. Unbeknownst to the prince, chief minister Sebastian (played by Perry Ojeda as deliciously manipulative) has been surreptitiously taking that land, along with other things he keeps hidden from the prince.
When not protesting, Jean-Michel woos one of Cinderella’s stepsisters, Gabrielle (a convivial Aviva Pressman), who turns out to be not that evil. And Cinderella’s other stepsister, the plainer and hilariously blunt Charlotte (Joanna Johnson, owning her role) is a riot trying to get the prince’s attention, wondering “why would a fellow want a girl like her?” sung in “Stepsister’s Lament” with the other snubbed young ladies at the ball after the prince falls for Cinderella.
Cinderella’s unashamedly greedy stepmother, whom the sisters regally call Madame (Tracy Lore), is amusingly vain in her ornate gowns and over-the-top meanness to Cinderella. We love to hate her, owing to Lore’s poised and nuanced portrayal.
Bringing similar star power to her role is Daebreon Poiema as fairy godmother Marie, the opposite of Madame in her love and support for Cinderella. Poiema literally shines in flowing curls and luminous gown, belting how nothing is “Impossible” while turning a pumpkin into a carriage and transforming two woodland animals (portrayed with fluffy puppets) into acrobatic footmen.
Emily Grace Tucker similarly sparkles as Cinderella, moving gracefully, singing strongly and speaking crystal clearly. Tucker makes believable Cinderella’s innate kindness—even in her miserable position as servant in her own family—as well as her immense imagination, expressed singing “In My Own Little Corner,” and her integrity in doing what’s right with the prince.
Prince Topher (short for Christopher Rupert, plus a string of other names) is warmly played by Gabriel Navarro, and believable in his naivety after a sheltered upbringing, captured in singing “Me, Who Am I?” However, Navarro doesn’t bring the same sharp and dramatic delivery as the others so his natural portrayal seems out of place. It’s also conspicuous when Cinderella sings “He Was Tall,” a song about the prince’s physical attributes that don’t quite fit.
Nick Tubbs as court herald Lord Pinkleton deserves a shout-out for his strong presence and vocals in announcing “The Prince is Giving a Ball.” The entire ensemble cast of a dozen members is similarly invested and animated.
Travis Grant’s vibrant and sparkly costumes for both men and women are integral to the show’s magic, including Cinderella’s presto-chango ballgown transformations through her fairy godmother’s magic. And while the stepsisters' gowns are fittingly carnivalesque, the “evil” characters of Sebastian and Madame wear gorgeously textured jewel-colored outfits reflecting their materialism.
Wigs (designed by Michon Gruber) also adds to character, including Gabrielle’s awkward pretzel-shaped hairdo for the ball and Charlotte’s poufy helmet-hair that captures her toughness.
Scenic design (John Patrick) and colorful lighting (Paul Black) add to the atmosphere with ornately painted backdrops. Crew members are sometimes visible moving chairs, but scene changes, from Cinderella’s home to the town to the palace, are otherwise seamless.
Fluidly directed by Peggy Hickey, with orchestral music direction by Dennis Castellano, “Cinderella” is a professional and entertaining production that younger audience members will enjoy for its whimsicality while adults might also appreciate nods to higher ideals like democracy, literacy and speaking truth to power. Not bad for a fairy tale.
Musical Theatre West’s “Cinderella” continues through Dec. 18 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach, with shows Thursday, Dec. 8 at 7:30, Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. (and 6:00 p.m. on Dec. 11). Ticket prices start at $20 and can be purchased by calling the MTW box office at (562) 856-1999 or visiting Musical.org. Run time is 2 hours plus intermission. Masks optional.