The character and story of Cinderella has a long tradition and many variants. In the first century A.D., the Greek geographer and historian Strabo reported an ancient Egyptian oral folk tale involving a monarch’s search for the owner of a slipper resulting in their marriage. In 1634, the Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile authored the first literary prose version titled “Cenerentola” or “Ash Maiden” from the Italian word “cinere” translated as “ashes” or “cinders.” At that time, servants cleaned the house fireplaces and slept near them for warmth. His story also added the wicked stepmother and stepsisters, the slipper, and a magical transformation. In 1697, the French author Charles Perrault who established the literary genre of “fairy tale,” wrote a version called “Cendrillon” in which he added a glass slipper, the fairy godmother, and the pumpkin. In 1812, the Brothers Grimm wrote “Aschenputtel” or “The Little Ash Girl” which eliminated the fairy godmother and gave the story a violent ending.
The creative team has done a magnificent job…dazzling…an evening of comedy, dance, music, skilled acting, and design.
Through the years, musical adaptations of “Cinderella” have been presented in film, television, stage, opera, and ballet. In 1957, Rodgers and Hammerstein composed a version for television based on the Perrault story starring Julie Andrews. This version was redone for TV in 1965 with Lesley Ann Warren in the title role. In 1997, a third remake for TV was made with a racially diverse cast including Brandy Norwood in the title role, with Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, and Jason Alexander in supporting roles. In 2013, Keke Palmer became the first Black actor to portray Cinderella on the Broadway musical stage, with a book revised by Douglas Carter Beane.
ArtsCentric’s production uses the stage adaptation (the “enchanted edition”) by Tom Briggs of the 1997 teleplay by Robert Freedman. It is an all-encompassing celebration of African-American heritage, featuring musical and choreographic adaptations to the Rodgers and Hammerstein score. The creative team has done a magnificent job melding the designs of the set (Daniel Conway), costumes (Larry Boggs), lighting (Max Doolittle), sound (Alec Green), and props (Antwan Hawkins Jr.) to reflect African culture in the original story. The over-all effect is dazzling with color, geometric and floral designs, flowing robes, crazy wigs, sequins and rhinestones galore, and shimmering gowns. There are rod puppets of mice, a dove, and a cat handled expertly by cast and crew supervised by stage manager Jordan Ross. The set pieces include a large hearth with glowing fire, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, a faux marble palace staircase, and different sizes of pumpkins placed on the floor in front of a round thrust stage in CenterStage’s Head Theater. Clever props, such as hobby horses for the prince’s retinue to search for the owner of the glass slipper and a market scene with baskets and carts of craft and food items, added to the enjoyment. The lattice proscenium arch and backdrops highlighted the colorful scenes. Steps on either side of the stage allow action on the floor area in front and in the aisles.
Cedric Lyles directed the music and conducted the band (Alex Navarette, Jonathan Colon, Kevin Kearny and Adrian Mitchell) in interesting and exciting arrangements of the score. Themba added African percussion instruments which greatly enhanced the exuberant dancing of the ensemble. Choreographer Shalyce Hemby managed to fill these scenes with every type of dance imaginable including a stylized gavotte, waltz, vogue, and soft shoe. including some steps and foot/arm movements that were crazy, funny, and extremely interesting to watch. Kevin McAllister, ArtsCentric’s artistic director, has guided every facet of this production to provide an evening of comedy, dance, music, skilled acting, and design. He even manages to squeeze in a cameo appearance.
Jaiden Nuaro (Cinderella) and Nick Moore (Prince Christopher) have strong voices and do a terrific job singing the beautiful melodies as solos and duets and their acting skills make the audience sympathetic to their similar circumstances. Asia-Lige Arnold (Queen Constantina) and Curtis McNeil (King Maximillian) are typical parents, comically over-anxious to marry off their son by thrusting him into the arms of available maidens. The belly laughs resounded throughout the audience in every scene in which the stepmother (Kenyatta Hardison) and stepsisters (Malshauna Hamm and Nikki Owens) appeared. Their over-the-top costumes and wigs, movements, timing, squabbles, and pratfalls were absolutely hilarious. (I thought they could easily be in a TV sitcom on their own.) Tyrell Stanley as Lionel, the prince’s valet, moves the action along as he keeps the prince focused on finding his true princess. His comic skill in trying to fit the glass slipper on various maidens makes the scenes very funny.
Aphorisms abound in this script. The Fairy Godmother (Jade Madden alternating with Pam Ward) reminds us that “everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.” No wand or tutu for this Fairy Godmother, instead she wears an elaborate, sparkling headpiece and gown. The stepmother reminds us that “money doesn’t grow on trees; it’s inherited.” She tells Cinderella to “smoke that salmon” and says, “cheap cloth, that’s what you’re cut from.” The Queen tells the King he looks like “five pounds of flour in a two pound sack.”
There are many themes inherent in the Cinderella story aptly described by Mr. McAllister in his program note, most notably “the value of authenticity and self-identity in charting one’s own path” for the dreamers, the wishers, and the do-ers. Oscar Hammerstein perhaps would call this production “Some Enchanted Evening.” I prefer the aphorism, “If the shoe fits, wear it.”
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
“Cinderella (Enchanted Edition)” runs through December 23, 2023 presented by ArtsCentric at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. For more information and to buy tickets, call the Box Office at 410.332.0033 Tuesday through Saturday from 12 noon – 5 pm or go online.