Young children in the audience invigorate a sparkling production of Cinderella in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's Octagon theatre. -- The eight-member ASF Acting Intern ensemble, under Nancy Rominger's direction, render playwright Ruth Newton's version of the fairy-tale in under an hour's playing time, inviting children young and old to help them tell the story and to both enjoy and learn: the two most basic precepts of live theatre.
This "Theatre for Young Audiences" production takes advantage of the Octagon's intimacy to make the future adult audiences (and the grown-ups they brought with them) comfortable enough to respond to on-stage questions about plot and production details; and the responses are instantaneous and well informed...often so animated and sincere that everyone approves.
The story of Cinderella's [Lilly Wilton] escape from a life of drudgery with the assistance of her Fairy Godmother [Kayla Eisenberg] to attend a royal ball where she wins the heart of the Prince [Michael Quattrone] is well known. -- Yet, there is much to delight along the way: Robert F. Wolin's set revolves from the dingy kitchen to the bright ballroom in the Prince's palace; Michael Medcalf choreographs the simple and elegant dance sequences; and Pamela Scofield's costumes are a joy -- from the gaudy and vulgar excesses of Cinderella's step-family to the restrained opulence of the courtiers, and a magical transformation of Cinderella's scullery-maid outfit into a stunning ball gown.
And there is a lot of delight in the performances as well. Noelia Antweiler is the two-faced social-climbing Stepmother who never misses a chance to push her daughters into the limelight, and who even promotes herself into a union with the Prince when her daughters' chances fall flat...and the Stepsisters, Matilda [Christopher Lemieux] and Griselda [Andrew Dahreddine], constantly fighting with one another with no realization of their foolishness, are so wholeheartedly greedy that they are hilarious.
Ms. Eisenberg's Fairy Godmother [she also doubles as a Lady at the Court] is forgetful and sincere; and she also manages a few magic tricks to delight the audience.
Parke Fech as the Prime Minister, and John Henry Carter as the Duke, are the Prince's cohorts who both assist him in his pretending to be a commoner as he woos Cinderella, and lead the search for the mysterious woman he fell in love with at the ball.
The love story is at the center of the plot, and is given a familiar twist when the Prince feigns a lower social status to the beautiful stranger so she might like him for his behavior and not his wealth. Mr. Quattrone's sincere confession to Cinderella that "everyone feels sad, lonely, and afraid sometimes" is central to their romance. Ms. Wilton, in turn, "pretends" to the Prince that she is not a Princess, and commiserates with him -- an instant connection.
Through it all, there are lessons that are given with gracefulness: telling the truth is essential to leading a good life; forgive those who hurt us as Cinderella forgives the Step-family; true beauty is within a person -- wisdom and honesty are traits that uncover that beauty; we can make our dreams come true, not simply by wishing, but by believing in ourselves.