If the object of the story is to find Cinderella then the glass slipper fits snugly with the casting of Madeleine Shaw in the title role. The headline news out of Tuesday night’s final dress rehearsal down at the Koorliny Arts Centre is that the petite performer has a wonderful singing voice and a confidence that comes with it. Of course, no production is bigger than any single person but with Shaw director Ryan Taaffe has a bona fide star anchoring the show. That alone should guarantee a successful season for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of the famous fairy tale but this is such a charming, family friendly effort that it will please children and parents alike.
Cast opposite Shaw in the role of Prince Christopher is Daniel Nixon who comes into his own in the second act (as did the show as a whole) especially with Ten Minutes Ago and Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful? The ball is the strongest sequence and Shaw and Nixon work well together as the fledgling romance flourishes before being cruelly cut short.
Speaking of cruel, Tammy Miller gives a strong performance as the Stepmother doing a lot of the heavy lifting in the first act as the familiar tale kicks into gear. She is joined in this by Stacey Hollings and Grace Dennis-Sayer as the sisters who vie for the Prince’s attention and provide a lot of the comic relief. Dennis-Sayer in particular gives Joy a robust physicality with a most impressive snort. They have some nice pratfalls as they battle each other while being in thrall to their conniving mother.
Shelley Whiteaker is the Fairy Godmother who kicks off the tale and provides that little piece of magic that turns Cinderella from browbeaten servant girl to beautiful princess. The transformation is indeed magical with an ingenious piece of costuming design that was most impressive. Vocally Whiteaker is strongest in her final number at the end of the show. Indeed, most of the singers seemed a little tentative but that should shake itself out as they get into a rhythm over the run.
Of the other secondary characters, Mark Thompson provides additional comic relief as the Prince’s confidant Lionel while David Major and Pamela Ogborne play the King and Queen. Ashleigh Riley is an almost ethereal presence as the “Dove” that guides Cinderella at key moments and the children playing the four mice and a cat are delightful. There is also an ensemble of some 16 additional performers across all ages for the market and balls scenes.
The set is quite simple with minimal transitions as most of the action is either at the Stepmother’s house, the markets, or the palace/ballroom. The 13-piece band is located stage left fully visible to the audience and played well under the direction of Krispin Maesalu.
The first act moved a little slow but again, that should tighten with more performances and the energy levels will go up a notch with a bigger audience than simply me. The production certainly found a better rhythm in a second half that doesn’t outstay its welcome and has a crowd-pleasing happy ending and perhaps the stronger musical numbers. If anything, the show plays to its strength any time Madeleine Shaw has a featured number and there is a nice balance with the fairy tale romance, broad comedy, and an old-fashioned charm that is hard to resist.
Directed by Ryan Taaffe with Musical Direction by Krispin Maesalu and Choreography by Allen Blachford, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella opens at the Koorliny Arts Centre Thursday 6 November and runs until 15 November.