PERRY — Once upon a time there was a beautiful maiden who was kind and friendly despite her loathsome stepmother who looked down upon her and made her do all the housework. With just one sentence, anyone can recall the story of Cinderella. The musical version by the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein (with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, adapted from the original book by Oscar Hammerstein II) focuses Cinderella winning her prince through kindness and thoughtful thinking, not just her beauty. Audiences will still find the music they love from the original 1957 version but will be delighted by some twists and turns from the original plot. Cinderella is no longer a helpless damsel whom the prince marries just because she is beautiful; she is as kind as she is beautiful, a true beauty both inside and out.
Set to be a big hit this holiday season, Heritage Theatre’s production of Cinderella, directed by Nedra Pace, is delightful and heartwarming. Pace has created a powerful cast for the small town of Perry starring Morgan Richards as Ella and Nathan Scott as Prince Topher. The two are not just a charming couple but are each talented singers who carry their parts with excellence. Scott enters the show as a heroic prince who is fighting dragons, yet who is humble and unknowingly sweet. His simple yet endearing mannerisms and singing in “Me, Who and I” quickly set him up to be the dreamy prince that all the women in the country would fall in love with. Morgan Richards is a strong lead as Cinderella. Her light and delicate singing of “In My Own Little Corner” and bright and hopeful actions in “It’s Possible” were simply lovely as she brought the beloved character of Cinderella to life.
Making the evening even more enjoyable was knowing that Morgan Richards’s own mother (Leslie Richards) was playing the role of Madame, the evil stepmother. The two had a clear connection as the older Richards would shout increasing orders and demands at her real-life daughter. Leslie Richards was formidable and comical at the same time. Her character had a large red curly bun on top of her head that stood up so high symbolizing her desire to be higher class and more important than she really was. Her comedic timing was clever as she delivered the line “Why don’t I have any friends?”
Cinderella’s stepsisters Gabrielle and Charlotte were played by Caitlin Strait and Abby Payne-Peterson, respectively. The family was enjoyable to watch as they playfully danced about and sang in “A Lovely Night,” delivering great laughs as Leslie Richards seductively sang out “Darling, I love you.” Payne-Peterson stomped about and pouted as the obvious second-favorite daughter and sang a great rendition of “Stepsister’s Lament” complaining about her lot in life. Strait played a stepsister who was actually nice and not so cruel. Her faking being sick on the couch to get out of going to the banquet was full of comedic faces and over-the-top acting that many kids have perfected throughout their years of not wanting to go to school.
The enchanting Shanna Smith almost stole the show with her character Marie. Transforming from the old crazy hag with loony looks dressed in a black cape of rags into a beautiful fairy godmother in a gorgeous sparkly dress, Smith is a wonderful delight in this show. Completing her transformation she declares, “You’d be surprised how many beautiful gowns have crazy women in them.” Her encouragement and belief in Ella as she heads to the banquet is powerful and a highlight of the night as Smith sings, “There’s Music in You.”
Costumes designed by Sharla Ream, Nancy Cannon, and Brianna Taylor were colorful and elegant. All of the women’s fancy dresses at the ball were exquisite and matched the men’s elaborate waistcoats creating a scene of visual enjoyment. Even the horrendous costumes of Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters were joyful with gaudy embellishments, like the large silver bow on Charlotte’s puffed sleeved dress. Madame’s green dress meshed well with the purple cape and gloves, implying her evil and sinister personality. The costume transformations of Cinderella’s dress was truly magical. Cinderella was dressed first in a simple, yet lovely, peasant dress with a green handkerchief in her hair. As Morgan Richards spun, her dress transformed to reveal a sparkly white dress made out of satin and tulle. The costumes for the evening were all very well done and set the tone for a fabulous night.
On the other hand, I found the set and the props to be lacking. Details, like the scraggly straw roof and paint on Cinderella’s house, looked unfinished and sloppy. The set transformed into a staircase for the palace, yet also seemed unfinished, with part of it unpainted and the railing falling down multiple times. I was also a little disappointed when Cinderella’s carriage came out not as a golden pumpkin carriage, but as a light blue sleigh with small gold decals. I was hoping for a more magical carriage to whisk Cinderella away to the ball. However, Heritage Theatre is a low-budget community theatre which could greatly use some donations. Although the set was not very grand, the quality of the performers and the costumes made for a wonderful production.
Cinderella at Heritage Theatre in Perry was endearing and a charming evening that would be a shame to miss. Gather your family and head to Heritage Theatre before the clock strikes midnight on this play and the magic disappears.