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Playhouse’s ‘Cinderella’ enchants

YOUNGSTOWN — Director Emma Wason is like a fairy godmother, gathering all the parts to create an enchanting production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”

The show features a uniformly strong cast, and the size of the opening night crowd (if it wasn’t a sell out, it was close to it) indicates it was a wise choice by the Playhouse for its holiday slot, even if the musical doesn’t have any carols or Christmas trees.

Both Elizabeth Huff as Cinderella and Wayne Bonner III as Prince Christopher have pure, powerful voices that impress on Huff’s solo number “In My Own Little Corner” and together on “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”

In the preview story, Wason talked about looking for chemistry when making her casting choices, and that’s evident throughout the production. If anything, there are pairings and groupings within the cast whose chemistry outshine the main couple.

Huff also clicks with Liz Conrad, who creates a mischievous Fairy Godmother who makes it possible for Cinderella to attend the ball where she meets the prince.

Kayla Fenstermaker and Sierra Ellis are wickedly delightful as Cinderella’s stepsisters. Fenstermaker’s performance as Portia is big and demonstrative with a snorting, cackling laugh and Ellis’ Joy is her dry, eye-rolling counterpart. Their scene on the dance floor with Prince Christopher is the show’s comedic highlight, and their delusional banter with Connie Cassidy (equally good as their mother / Cinderella’s stepmother) never fails to get laughs.

Another great pairing is Terry Shears and Amy Burd as the King and Queen. Their repartee and reactions to each other made them all too believable as a long-married couple.

Wason’s direction allows those smaller scenes to stand out, but she’s just as effective playing traffic cop and creating spectacle in the full ensemble numbers, navigating nearly 40 performers, from young children to adults, around the stage at various times.

Music director Tyler Stouffer’s work with the cast also is evident, both in how well those big group numbers sound and how the solo numbers have been tailored to accentuate the vocalists’ strengths. Too bad he didn’t have a live band to conduct instead of the cast singing to instrumental tracks.

As is the norm at the playhouse, the technical elements galvanize the production, from Leslie Brown’s lighting to Tom Hitmar’s adaptable set. Cassidy does double duty as costumer. Cinderella’s ball gown reveal falls a bit short of the wow factor one expects from that moment, but the outfits of the royals, the Herald (wonderfully sung by Craig Conrad) and the ball attendees give the show a visual pop.

Opening night attracted plenty of young Cinderellas, many of whom came dressed like the title character. This isn’t the Disney musical, and some of those younger audience members got restless in the second act. Parents should decide whether their children have the attention span for a two-hour musical that might end after their normal bedtimes.

To its credit, the actors didn’t let the occasional crowd noise distract them, and frankly it’s something audience members at a fairy tale musical probably should expect. If members of Congress don’t know how to behave at the theater, why should 4-year-olds?

My biggest gripe of the night has nothing to do with the show. I understand programs are expensive and not environmentally friendly, and I grudgingly accept the digital program these days. But if you’re going to go to the expense of printing a 30-page program on glossy stock for a musical, don’t leave out a song list. As a theatergoer, it’s one of the first things I look for before the show starts. As a writer, it’s more of a necessity.

If you go …

WHAT: “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 10

WHERE: Youngstown Playhouse, 600 Playhouse Lane, Youngstown

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $17 to $27 and are available online at experienceyourarts.org and by calling 330-788-8739.

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