Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella Theatre Review

Andy Huntington Jones & Kaitlyn Davidson (r) star in Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Few stories match the history and mass appeal of Cinderella. The first European version dates back to the 17th century; but you can go all the way back to 7 B.C. for a similar tale (Rhodopis.) The current Broadway production isn't quite as old (2013) but it has a Tony Award (for Best Costume Design of a Musical) to its credit, and made its Washington, DC premiere earlier tonight at the venerable National Theatre. Suffice it to say, Cinderella hasn't lost a step in over two millennia... even if she did lose track of a glass slipper along the way.

It didn't take long for stars Kaitlyn Davidson and Andy Huntington Jones to win over a sold-out opening night audience. Jones' Prince Topher was particularly endearing, questioning his own existence/relevance, "I just wish I was doing something more important with my life," before slaying a dragon with a mere slingshot (try doing that in Game of Thrones.) After Topher's first encounter with enchanting Ella (Davidson) it's love at first sight; and you just know, it won't be long before they meet again.

Unfortunately for Ella, she has to break away from her wicked stepmother Madame (Blair Ross) before living happily ever after. How wicked? Daughter Gabrielle (Kim Fauré) sums it up best, "Madame isn't always terrible. Sometimes she sleeps." All jokes aside, Madame puts the w-i-c-k-e-d in wicked, especially whilst tearing Ella's (deceased) father's coat in half and ordering it to be used as a cleaning rag. Ouch. She certainly has a "flair for ridicule," and Ross plays her with devilish contempt.

Ella catches a break, courtesy of Crazy Marie (Liz McCartney) AKA Ella's fairy godmother. Marie's transformation occurs on stage, "You'd be surprised how many beautiful gowns have crazy people in them," but pales in comparison to Ella's whirlwind wardrobe switcharoo, which can best be described as breathtaking. Davidson's enthusiasm couldn't be more genuine, and she looks absolutely stunning in her white ballgown/diamond tiara/glass slippers. Coupled with a sweet yet powerful voice, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Cinderella half as well.

Once Ella gets to the ball, the magic begins in earnest. Anna Louizos' scenic design is simple, yet sublimely elegant (archway, a few candlesticks and a curtain draped overhead.) It serves its purpose well, as the dancing takes center stage without having to struggle for space. Said dancing is lovely to watch, and Davidson & Jones shine as a couple you can't help but root for. I can't think of two nicer actors (and I intend that as a compliment.) "Ten Minutes Ago" takes top honors as best number of the first act: "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" is just as good in Act II, before a second reprise of Ten Minutes Ago (Topher, Ella and The Company.) Overall, the singing is very good, although it doesn't match the show's superior dancing (especially in terms of intensity) and storyline.

Then again, Cinderella is more about the visuals and wonder, isn't it? Ella's horse-drawn carriage is a sight to see, adorned in dazzling lights, befitting the holidays. There's plenty of laughs as well (Aymee Garcia's Charlotte, Ross) and a happy ending that proves anyone can be forgiven for anything (yes, it's Madame... who else?) It's easy to understand why so many people love Cinderella. It's the ultimate rags-to-riches story, and it promotes generosity and kindness over everything else. How do you top that?

Grade: B

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella continues at the National Theatre through Sunday, November 29th. Click here for showtimes and tickets.