AMERICAN FORK — Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s Cinderella has been a fun tradition for small and community theatres for many years. Since it was written in 1957, the script has been updated a couple of times, and the most recent update (by Douglas Carter Beane) has added new depth to the story and the characters that make the show much more exciting. American Fork Community Players presents a fantastic and fresh take on an old classic story. Interesting for adults and fun and appropriate for children, Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a must-see.
As the show opens, the audience meets Prince Topher (played by Jonny Walker) when he arrives home from university just in time to slay a dragon and save the day. Most princes have to wait until the end of their story to defeat a dragon, but Prince Topher is about to learn that dragons are easy foes compared to what he’s about to face. His parents have passed away, and during their reign the kingdom was happy and prosperous. As far as Prince Topher is aware, things are still running smoothly. But the lower classes don’t agree. They’re being overtaxed and driven from their homes, and they’re hungry and miserable. (The misery isn’t depicted, just described, so it won’t be distressing to little kids.) The revolutionary Jean-Michel (played by Lars Larson) wants to speak to the prince and inform him of the wide-spread injustice in the kingdom, but of course he’s kept away because he’s poor. The classes must be kept separate, obviously. But the Prince Topher happens upon the kind and beautiful Ella (played by Sasha Fazulyanov) who is not intimidated by his royal station and gives him a drink of water. The prince is touched by her kindness and wants to talk to her more, but they are whisked away to their proper stations.
The most iconic elements of the Cinderella story remain: the grand ball, the pumpkin carriage, the fairy godmother (played by the fantastic and scene-stealing Mackenie Seiler), and the glass slipper. Indeed, his might be the first version of this story I’ve seen that explains why Cinderella’s dancing shoes are made from such an inconvenient material. The script lost nothing important and only gained from the revision. The stepmother and stepsisters weren’t the typical generic villains; they had characters and motives and their own story arcs, even a bit of romance. Another villain is introduced as part of the political story line, which creates more obstacles for Topher and Ella’s relationship. Usually the two main characters have little more going for them than being decent people who fall in love with each other super fast. But in this production it is clear what makes them such interesting partners and why they want to be together. Prince Topher is engaged, strong, kind, and smart. Ella is loving and brave with an easy laugh and a vision for improvement. They’re a smart match, not just a pretty one.
There are several kids in the show, and not just as part of the crowd scenes. They’re actively involved in the story as the enchanted animals who are friends with Ella before the ball, and magically change to help take her there. There are a lot of repeating last names in the program, and it’s always fun to see families doing theatre together. Costume designers Jessica Sanner and Ali Jesperson had some very creative solutions for the magical transitions of the animals and Ella’s clothing. Even as a skeptical millennial, I was dazzled by how Cinderella’s course work dress turned into her flowing white ballgown.
The story line moves along at a nice pace and I was very pleased to find that I couldn’t wait to find out what was going to happen next. That was a very pleasant surprise, especially in a story that’s so common and well known. The recording for a few of the songs were way slower than they needed to be, which dragged those sections a bit. It seemed to be all the ones that were unchanged from the last iteration of the play with “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” being the two most egregious offenders. Director Neal Johnson did very well working with cast members of different ages and in bringing fresh life to a common story.
This was one of the most entertaining and exciting community theatre productions I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend it for families looking for fun night out together. But if you tend to chill easily, bring a jacket. (It was freezing in the auditorium.)