Review: 'Cinderella' Enchants at Theatre By The Sea

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday July 25, 2022

Ophelia Rivera (Ella) and Aidan Cole (Topher) with the company of "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" at Theatre By The Sea thru August 13. Photos by Mark Turek
Ophelia Rivera (Ella) and Aidan Cole (Topher) with the company of "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" at Theatre By The Sea thru August 13. Photos by Mark Turek  

Back in the 1950s, musicals adapted for television were fairly common, but the most prestigious of the lot came when Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein signed with CBS to adapt a vehicle for Julie Andrews (then starring in "My Fair Lady") and chose another tale of a girl who starts off in rags and transforms into a glamorous princess.

"Cinderella" was the only musical Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote for television and was broadcast (in color, no less) on March 31, 1957. It was remade twice more in 1965, with Leslie Anne Warren, and again in 1997, this time with Brandy Norwood as the title character and Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother. The 1957 TV show was nominated for a primetime Emmy. It's been a long journey for the girl in rags, put upon by her wicked stepmother and self obsessed stepsisters.

But it would take nearly 50 years for the musical to make it to Broadway. That came when out playwright Douglas Carter Beane ("And the Little Dog Laughed") revamped Hammerstein's book and expanded into a two-act musical with additional numbers from the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog. The new version played 770 performances and was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning for Best Costumes. It is this revamped version that Theatre By The Sea is presenting through August 13.

Thankfully, the theater doesn't disappoint with a production filled with colorful visuals, imaginative set pieces, and glorious vocalizations. Cinderella (renamed Ella in this version) is brought to life by Ophelia Rivera, fresh off the 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour of "Rent" and she makes a splash here — sweet and lovely. Aidan Cole makes an adorable prince, looking truly "dreamy eyed" as he searches for the elusive girl who twice ditches him on the dance floor. Gay Willis, returning to TBTS as Madame after an absence of 37 years having last played Tuptim in "The King and I," shows she hasn't lost her performing skills.

The comedic moments are thoroughly enjoyable when deftly handled by not only Willis, but Kat Gold as Charlotte (a Rhode Island native) who chews the scenery with glee, and Kat Moser as Gabrielle making her TBTS debut and can delight as the lovesick sister in love with Jean-Michel (A delightful Tony Harkin). Another RI native is Nigel Richards (Lord Pinkleton,) the town crier with a fantastic voice. But nobody can sing in this production like New York-based Laura Yen Solito as Marie, and not only does her transformation into the fairy godmother elicit much applause, but her voice brings the house down. Twice.

Kenny Ingram directs and choreographs with assistant Briana Reed and Russell Garrett, who has directed and choreographed previous TBTS productions, returns here as "Sebastian" and this slick and colorful show shines with set pieces by Kyle Dixon. In a show that features magic as its main theme, "Cinderella" is just the glitter-filled night for you and the family, and will delight you far better than any modern TV show. Go and see this before the midnight bell transforms it back into a pumpkin.

"Cinderella" is running through August 13th at Theatre By The Sea, 245 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield, RI 02879. For information or tickets call 401-782-8587 or visit www.theatrebythesea.com TBTS has lifted mask mandates for the season.