orget any “Folderol and Fiddle-Dee-Dee”: ‘Once upon a time’ is now as the landmark “Morgan Wixson Theatre” in Santa Monica California proudly celebrates their 75th anniversary season—and their return to presenting fully staged musicals, with “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella”! Featuring music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, (with additional lyrics by Douglas Carter Beane, David Chase, and Bruce Pomahac,) this version also employs a new book by Douglas Carter Beane (based on the original by Oscar Hammerstein II.) Nominated for nine “Tony Awards” and earning three “Drama Desk Awards”, this new reimagining of the beloved romantic fable brilliantly combines the classic story with a few contemporary ‘twists’ as only Douglas Carter Beane could do it. Direction and Choreography for this new production is by Niko Montelibano, while the Musical Direction is provided by Greg Coppenhaver, with the sum total of their efforts resulting in a thoroughly enchanting time at the theater for audiences of ALL ages, that’s always engaging, completely likable, and sometimes even a bit magical to see!
On opening night Director-Choreographer Montelibano (who also appears in the show) officially greeted audiences back to “The Morgan-Wixson” for the theater’s first summer musical since lock down, further advising they had a full summer of great shows planned, before getting on with the show: “We’ve got a Ball to get to and you’re all invited!” he breezed–and what a welcome back it is! Presenting a fresh, fun and fascinating turn on an old childhood favorite, Carter-Beane’s revised book is sharp and witty, with numerous bits of winking commentary and little sardonic asides as is the hilarious style he has become famous for. Overall, the action here is faster and fuller because unlike the original teleplay and the stage adaptation derived from it, this new rendering only encompasses TWO acts, as opposed to the initial three. However, this bilateral act form actually suits the story better. It also integrates some fantastic, new and re-invigorated musical sequences, such as how the first big ‘group’ effort, “Now Is The Time”, a composition new to the score, has been intermingled with one of its original ‘staples’–“The Prince Is Giving A Ball”. Combined, the two songs work exceptionally well together, bringing about a riveting new sequence. There’s even a clever nod or two to the Walt Disney film, in the form of puppets (–specifically a fox and a racoon who will reappear later, ostensibly ‘transformed’ into Cinderella’s “Human” Carriage Driver and Footman.)
Boasting an array of sublime performances from the exceedingly talented and versatile cast, Montelibano’s flowing direction capitalizes on all of his performers various strengths making for a multi-faceted and extremely lively production. The “Prologue” borders on symphonic with majestic vocals from the ensemble as we become acquainted with this lass “Ella”, who gives us our first glimpse of who she is, and the better life she dreams of, as she portentously intones: “improbable and pretty as a page from the fairytale books, it makes you wish that the world could be as lovely as it looks…” Immediately following, “Prince Topher” (short for “Christopher Rupert, Windermere, Vladimir, Carl, Alexander, Francois, Reginald, Lancelot, Herman, Gregory James”) comes rolling on seated high aloft a nifty oversized hobbyhorse. “He is the slayer of Giants and Dragons,” Marie, the town’s local ‘eccentric’, who will play a vital part in the doings later on, informs Cinderella; “he is to be crowned King this very month!” Speaking from a ‘Terpsichorean’ standpoint, one particular aspect that this stage interpretation has over its various televised counterparts is that it affords more time to ‘big’ dance segments which, given the time constraints those precursors were under, understandably were limited. Here though, Montelibano has let his creativity soar, concocting an assortment of really top-flight dance and movement sequences, which blend seamlessly with, and support the vocal element. The combined “Now Is The Time/The Prince Is Giving A Ball” intermezzo includes some flashy acrobatics and a spirited kick-line (count this one a big ‘win” for Act One.) Subsequently, “Off To The Ball” is also a bouncy bit of stage business.
(This time, all the guests are—logically–in masks, so no lady vying for his proposal knows who the Prince is when he dances with them, so none can falsely influence him.) Then, once there, “The Gavotte” kicks off this extended segment set in the royal palace, as we find festively festooned couples waltzing. “Ten Minutes Ago” is also perceptively staged and thrillingly sung, backed by some terrific dancing when the action flourishes into “Waltz For A Ball”. Of course, at the stroke of midnight, our Heroine must vacate the premises—quickly, ushering in the segment known as ‘The Chase”, which too, has been shrewdly staged to include more stunning acrobatic maneuvers, not to mention how each time she appears, “Cinderella” seems to, bit-by-bit, be returning back into her “humbler”, less glamorous self. Not to be overlooked either is the show’s sumptuous finale–a group reprise of “Ten Minutes Ago” which stands as still another example of how genuinely melodious this cast sound together.
As the titular protagonist “Cinderella”, Katelyn Coon exhibits a nice “girl-next-door” sort of charisma. Hers is a giddy, ebullient–yet down to earth, take on this classic fairytale figure, and her approach in turn, easily has us rooting for her at every turn. Gifted with a sweet, mellow lilt to her voice, she makes “In My Own Little Corner” nothing short of lovely to hear. After intermission, her soliloquy (another new addition for this version) titled “He Was Tall” has Cinderella trying to recall and process everything the evening has entailed and all her wonderful feelings inherent to it. It’s an irrepressibly pleasing–even somewhat poignant, moment and one of many that is impeccably conveyed by Ms. Coon. Co-starring as her “Fairy Godmother” (A.K.A “Crazy Marie”) is Julie Hinton. “That is merely ‘Crazy Marie’,” Cinderella describes her upon their sudden precursory meeting with “Prince Topher”; “she lives in the woods and only comes to town to gather what others throw-away. She is gentle in every way—sweet and delicate, but…well, ‘you know’.” Ms. Hinton also proves to be a bona-fide vocal powerhouse as she demonstrates in her duet with Coon, “Impossible/It’s Possible” as Cinderella prepares to go to the ball. It’s an A-Plus endeavor, with the added bonus being that its also loaded with plenty of dynamic special costume effects that sees both of them ‘transforming’ from wearing dusty rags into opulent gowns right before our eyes! Toward the play’s climax, she is granted another opportunity to amaze us all over again —which she most certainly does, with “There Is Music In You”. Originally written for the movie “Mainstreet To Broadway” in 1953, the song was incorporated into the score for “Cinderella’s” 1995 TV incarnation (expressly for Whitney Houston who played “The Fairy Godmother”.) Happily, Carter-Beane and company chose to keep it in for their 2013 stage re-envisioning where it remains a remarkably fitting anthem for the “Godmother’s” role. Placed late in the second act, Ms. Hinton’s powerful rendition is definitely worth waiting for!
Likewise at the forefront of the action is Eadric Einbinder as “Prince Topher”—the dashing object of all “Cinderella’s” romantic dreams. “I just wish I was doing something more important with my life,’ he states wistfully at the start of his opening descant, “Me, Who Am I?” Painting the Prince as a regular guy who, we’re informed, “Dreams like a lion, but wakes up like a lamb”, it’s an exemplary introduction to Einbinder’s vocal capabilities along with the inner-life of this outwardly brave but sensitive and at-times bemused heir to the throne. Later, his conferral of the show’s “11 O’Clock” number, “The Loneliness Of Evening” (a song, cut for time in the original 1957 telecast but re-instated for the 1965 telecast,) has Einbinder astutely underplaying its preliminary verses before building into a deeper, more meaningful soliloquy-through-song. Indeed, this is one of his most compelling times in the spotlight. As a pair, his and Ms. Coon’s inherent youth serves both their characters well. These are after all simply teenagers falling in love for the very first time, and this adds a charming authenticity to their scenes together, including their beautiful and beguiling duet, “Ten Minutes Ago”—one of the most well-known standards the score can lay claim to. In this instance, Einbinder again starts out subtly, allowing the number to consistently build, until Ms. Coon also joins in, at which time it becomes a full-on production spectacular comprised of everyone on stage.
Plenty of unforgettable support is also supplied by Sara Kaner as Cinderella’s “Wicked Stepmother”—enigmatically only referred to as “Madame”, whom her own daughters describe as “A woman well versed in the art of ridicule”: “Daughters—you are marrying that Prince!” she fumes at one point; “We don’t have time for love—love is for little people!” More than simply a preening, bellowing, and supremely social-climbing Grandame of other depictions, this also paints her as something of a political conspirator (in cahoots with “Sebastian”) on the side. Equally important to the story are Cinderella’s Stepsisters who, this time around are anything but “ugly”: “We’re exhausted being as beautiful as we look” they early on complain to their mother. In fact, they might even hold a degree of surprise for those who think they’re familiar with who these ‘siblings’ are ‘supposed’ to be and the antagonistic positions they’re ‘supposed’ to fill in the story. Audrey Pennington is the alluring “Gabrielle”—the more favored of Madame’s two “daughters that count”. It is she whom her mother is pinning all her hopes and expectations on to secure the Prince’s hand in marriage; trouble is, being secretly in love with the town’s young ‘firebrand’, “Jean-Michel”, she has no interest in marrying anybody else. When Cinderella and Gabrielle form an unexpected alliance which promises to encourage and assist each to pursue their “Princes”, Gabrielle assures Ella not to worry about “Madame” getting in the way: “Madame doesn’t notice anything that’s not her,” Gabrielle breezes.
Both “Stepsisters” dispense their share of comedy, but Ms. Pennington adeptly carries much of the sub-plot, while her “sister” is too darn obtuse and socially brusque to stand a ghost of a chance with anybody, let alone royalty.
As “Charlotte”, that other Stepsister, Caroline Hawthorne is outstanding at the heart of “The Stepsister’s Lament” (complete with new supplemental lyrics by Beane) which launches Act Two, but instead of singing with ‘Gabrielle”, the number now has her commiserating with all the other rejected ladies in attendance. This adds a jaunty lavishness to the goings-on and elevates an otherwise amusing little duet into a top-notch production extravaganza. Once home, “Madame”, “Charlotte”, “Gabrielle” and “Cinderella” join in recalling their evening with some of the most delightful refrains written for the score: “When You’re Driving Through the Moonlight” is an absolute triumph for this quartet, eliciting some magnificent harmonizing, before they leap into the similarly appealing “A Lovely Night”. Given a light and airy accompaniment, this allows the vocals to take center stage, giving rise to even more incredible harmony from all four (Without a doubt, they don’t come better than this—count this one a definitive show highlight!)
The original Broadway production set a new technical standard regarding the innovations it spawned back in 2013. As it happens, several new clothing effects concerning quick changes on-stage were literally ‘invented’ for it, which are put to striking use here. (Little wonder the show handily won the Tony for “Best Costume Design” that same year!) For “The Morgan-Wixson’s” current offering, Anne Gesling’s Costume Designs are as substantial as they are vibrant. What’s more, it’s also no exaggeration to say that these are the best costumes of any local production you’re likely to see this year! From “Charlotte’s” contrasting Pink, and Gabrielle’s Orange and Green, frocks to “Marie’s” drab red-velvet overcoat (before she ‘miraculously’ transforms from it into a stunning baby-blue lace gown,) each of her clothing selections are always spot-on and quite often dazzling. Such is also the case with the slippers “Cinderella” sports, now made of Venetian glass—rare in the Middle Ages, but highly prized. For the finale, she has the entire cast clad in stately white silk finery save for Cinderella and the Prince who sport matching gold outfits which elegantly contrast everyone around them. Moreover, Scenic Designer Bill Wilday (who also provided the Lighting Design) has also performed his own kind of scenic prestidigitation, favoring a number of pseudo ‘cut-out” sets which are just as colorful as the costumes, and reminiscent of illustrations you might find in a child’s storybook. (Consider for example, the “Kitchen Set” of Cinderella’s cottage—pink with purple doors, while on the outside the ‘house’ is turquoise with an amber thatched roof.) Meanwhile, the illusion of the carriage “driving off” to the prince’s castle is inventively achieved with marvelous effectiveness by means of animation projected on to the back scrim.
Although the management no longer requires proof of vaccination, due to the on-going Covid rates in L.A. County, in order to ensure the health and safety of their cast, crew, volunteers and patrons alike, they do require that everybody who enters the theater wear a face mask for the duration of the performance. If needed, masks will be available in the box office, just ask! (On opening night even the Director was wearing a facemask as he delivered his audience greeting.) Having officially opened on Saturday, July 9th, “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” will play through Sunday, July 24th, 2022, at “The Morgan-Wixson Theatre”, located at 2627 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica CA. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. Tickets may be obtained either on-line by logging onto: http://www.morgan-wixson.org , by phone at: (310) 828-7519 or via email at: email@example.com. Student and Senior discounts are also being offered for this engagement, while plenty of free parking is available nearby at the “Venice Family Clinic”, located at 2509 Pico Blvd, in Santa Monica.
Production Photos By Miriam Billington, Samantha Barrios and Sam Gianfala Courtesy Of Miriam Billington, Samantha Barrios and “The Morgan-Wixson Theatre”. Special Thanks To Miriam Billington, Samantha Barrios, Niko Montelibano, Greg Koppenhaver And To The Cast & Crew Of “The Morgan-Wixson Theatre’s” 2022 Production Of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” For Making This Story Possible.