Review: ‘Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella’ at TheatreMcLean

The rumbling of drums, the chiming of bells, and the sweet notes of violins drifting up into the air all create an enchanting tune for a beloved fairytale. Then, the curtain opens, and the audience is greeted with a woodland backdrop of purple and pink hues and the rising voices of a melodious chorus. Immerse yourself in TheatreMcLean’s production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, a modern spin on the classic fairytale that proves to be a joy for audiences of all ages, directed by Phil Reid, produced by Chip Rome, and with musical direction by Mitch Bassman.

Syd Kirk (Cinderella) and Christophe Jelinski (Prince Topher).

Syd Kirk (Cinderella) and Christophe Jelinski (Prince Topher). Photo by Andrew Reid.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella includes a book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and music by Richard Rodgers. It was a musical originally written for television that aired live on CBS on March 31, 1957, with Julie Andrews in the starring role. Since then, it has gained wide popularity, allowing the show to be adapted for the stage in different ways.

Most recently, the show debuted on Broadway in 2013 based on Douglas Carter Beane’s new book, which incorporates modern ideals into the musical, including politics and class divisions that portray the main characters as more realistic rather than whimsical and romantic. Add to that a flare of witty comedy and you have a transformed production accessible to today’s audience.

As the enchanting Cinderella, the lovely Syd Kirk truly brings to life the kindness and generosity of her character through her soft and knowing smile and delightful interactions with other characters. In beautiful songs like “In My Own Little Corner” and “Me, Who Am I,” Kirk delighted the audience with her captivating voice, conveying the hopes and dreams of Cinderella.

Accompanying her is Christophe Jelinski as Prince Topher, who brought a refreshing and humorous spin to the stereotypical  idea of the “perfect” prince. His strong voice rang clearly to express his lack of self-worth and frustrations over leading a kingdom. Both Kirk and Jelinski had great chemistry with each other, and their characters developed beautifully throughout the show as they fell in love.

The talented supporting cast, made up of a variety of expressive and humorous characters, brought the story to life. The trio of the stepmother and stepsisters greatly entertains the audience with their exceptional comedic timing. Diana Suk’s stepmother articulates the perfect blend of pompous and selfish cruelty, as her unyielding character torments Cinderella.

The wicked stepsisters, played by Abby Comey and Alanna Milstein, energetically display the differences between their two characters: the first, immersed in her own vanity; the second, in love with the town revolutionary, Jean-Michel (Jeffrey Nolan), who was funny as the champion of the less fortunate.

Heidi Deger was a charming Fairy Godmother, fully convincing the audience that she was crazy Marie before magically transforming into the kind-hearted Fairy Godmother. Among the members of the King’s Court is the stepmother’s partner in crime, Sebastian, portrayed by George Stifel, who cunningly reveals his character’s oppressive views of the lower classes. Also, Tori Garcia, as Lady Pinkleton, exhibits astounding vocals in the phrase “Hear Ye!” as she announces that “the prince is having a ball.”

Heidi Deger (Marie) advises Syd Kirk (Ella), with Christophe Jelinski (Prince Topher), and Tori Garcia (Lady Pinkleton). Photo courtesy of TheatreMcLean.

Heidi Deger (Marie) advises Syd Kirk (Cinderella), with Christophe Jelinski (Prince Topher), and Tori Garcia (Lady Pinkleton). Photo by Chip Rome.

What really stole the show was the outstanding performance of the ensemble, made up of a cast of quirky characters. Each character was unique with their own special personality. In particular, the witty fox (Carenna Slotkoff) and the hilarious raccoon (Lauren Grobman) kept the audience entertained with their priceless antics, while transforming into a footman and driver. During the musical numbers, the ensemble delighted the audience with their precise choreography and beautiful songs. Their singing flowed together to form a melody that told a story of magic and enchantment.

Choreographer Katie Perry effectively sets the captivating atmosphere of the show. From the joyful and lively dancing done by the townspeople in “The Prince is Giving a Ball” scene to the solemn and formal waltz during the ball (characterized by its elegant lifts and spins), the choreography provides a visually appealing picture to the audience.

Piper Phillips’ set design dramatically created the magical world of Cinderella. Comprised of moving set pieces that were easily rolled out during scene changes, the set included props depicting Cinderella’s home, the palace, and the town square. Aspects of the set were based on Tudor period designs evident in Cinderella’s carriage and the interior of the Stepmother’s house.

The Happy Couple: Syd Kirk (Cinderella) and Christophe Jelinski (Prince Topher). Photo courtesy of TheatreMcLean.

The Happy Couple: Syd Kirk (Cinderella) and Christophe Jelinski (Prince Topher). Photo by Chip Rome.

Jess Scarano’s Costume Design magnificently portrayed the rich/poor divide. The color palettes of the costumes, which focused on mute earth tones for the townspeople and bright royal colors for the wealthy, illustrate the tensions between these two groups, a central message of the story. Cinderella’s dress transformation (created by Scarano’s ingenious dress design, the lighting design by Jared Jacknow, and special/sound effects by Avery Madore and Emily O’Keefe, and Russell Reed) left me and the audience speechless as they witnessed a wonderful spectacle.

TheatreMcLean’s lavish and entertaining production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a beloved tale that everybody in the family will enjoy. Let’s all go to the ball!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

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Remaining performances for Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella are on Thursday, April 14, Friday, April 15, and Saturday April 16, 2016 at 7:00 PM at McLean High School – 1633 Davidson Road, in McLean, VA. For tickets, buy them them at the door or online.

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