Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Fairy tales are all about magic, or at least that’s what we’ve always thought. And we were right most of the time. However, if you’ve ever doubted slightly or perhaps supposed such tales were aimed only at children or were lacking in substance, think again and head to Owosso!
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella with revised new book by Douglas Carter Beane and currently playing at the Lebowsky Center for Performing Arts is a beautiful, magical, funny, and yes, up to date rendition of that most venerable story.
Opening with a set that could put Into the Woods to shame, a forest becomes the center of action as Cinderella (Claire Ladaga) strolls between the towering trees where she will ultimately meet all those folks that change her life. Ladaga is marvelous throughout in this role. Her clear vocals and her command of this character’s sweet yet strong demeanor is mightily well done.
One such change agent is Prince Topher (James Debenham), a strong vocalist who presents this royal as a bit unsure at first. He will come around before long however.
In this version, it is Madame (Mandy Bashore) and her two quirky daughters, Gabrielle (Sarah Hayner) and Charlotte (Grace Rosen) who rule the roost at least for a time. What will surprise some and delight others is the decided lack of overall nastiness on the part of these three. We loved this foursome as they sang about their evening – “A Lovely Night” and “When You’re Driving Through the Moonlight”.
So where’s the Fairy Godmother, you ask? Played beautifully by Amanda DeKatch and herein called Marie, this character begins as a scruffy beggar woman clothed in heavy rags. Her transformation to a beautiful fairy princess before our very eyes is worth the price of admission! Her “Impossible/It’s Possible” is terrific and only exceeded by her late Act Two “There’s Music in You”.
We must mention the hilariously crooked regent sort Sebastian played with angst and a slight whine by Michael Windnagle. His character reveals that politicians may have been being influenced for a very long time. In this case, it took a girl from the woods to open the Prince’s eyes.
Also, Josh Holliday’s portrayal of Lord Pinkleton is fun to watch especially early as he shows off his wonderful voice in his town crier role – “The Prince Is Giving a Ball”.
A new character appropriately inserted here is Jean-Michel (Vinnie Lindquist), the town revolutionary who along with Cinderella is trying to champion the plight of the poor. He will ultimately engage the support of Gabrielle proving that stepsisters are not always evil!
Now, about those costume conversions – we hesitate to call them merely changes because they are so instantly performed as to be nearly magical! And there’s more than one of them! Cinderella transforms twice! Major kudos to the costume crew!
Dirk Rennick and Dan Wenzlick’s sets for this production are amazing. Besides the forest, the palace steps and ballroom (complete with three chandeliers) are glorious as well. Cinderella’s elegantly lighted pumpkin coach is also a beautiful addition as “driven” by her two forest friends-become-a-real-life Footman (Miles Hayes) and Driver (Joe Gill).
The Lebowsky Center musicals are among the few these days that use live accompaniment and this one is outstanding. Musical Director Jillian Boots’ 18-piece orchestra is in the pit downstage and provides the precision and direction that moves the production smoothly.
Erica Duffield must be congratulated for the many choreographed numbers in this show. Dancers are not in short supply in Owosso if this play is any indication!
Finally, Garrett Bradley’s direction is impeccable. This large cast moves about with ease and fluidity. Musical numbers flowing effortlessly become part of the story and every actor exudes a confidence and seriousness of purpose that is to be commended.
This is community theatre at it’s finest. If you’ve never been to the lovely restored Lebowsky Center for Performing Arts, 122 E. Main St., Owosso, it’s time you made the trip. Cinderella continues today and March 6, 7 & 8. For more information call the box office at 989.723.4003 or visit them online at www.lebowskycenter.com