Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review: ‘Ever After’ beautiful musical retelling of the Cinderella story at Paper Mill Playhouse

Ever After 1
Paper Mill Playhouse has a well-deserved national reputation for the outstanding mounting of revivals of classic American musicals (e.g. South Pacific and Sound of Music) and Broadway bound musicals (e.g. Newsies, Honeymoon in Vegas and the recent Hunchback of Notre Dame). The Playhouse's final offering for the 2014-15 season fits the second category. It is the world-premiere musical Ever After, directed and choreographed by three-time Tony Award® winner Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes, Nice Work If You Can Get It), featuring a book and lyrics by Marcy Heisler and music by Zina Goldrich.

Title familiar? Ever After is based on the 1998 film starring Drew Barrymore and Anjelica Huston. It is a beautiful, warm creative musical retelling of the Cinderella story, with one major twist...there is no Fairy Godmother. Instead,  in this version we have Leonardo DaVinci (Tony Sheldon) as our heroine Danielle's' savior. Danielle (Margo Seibert), as in the fairy tale, is the stepdaughter of a properly nasty stepmother Baroness Rodmilla (Christine Ebersole-photo left).

Ever After 6 The story is set in France where King Francis (Charles Shaughnessy) and Queen Marie (Julie Halston) are in the process of marrying off their son, Prince Henry (James Synder) to a Spanish Princess (Jill Abramovitz). The fact that this marriage never takes place, of course, surely does not come as a surprise. Danielle triumphs (marries the Prince!) after hateful shenanigans by her step-sister Marguerite (Mara Davi -right above) and the Baroness, and the intervention of the King's honored guest the great DaVinci. (Note this is historically correct see item at bottom).

The production has a large cast (30) who cavort on the huge stage and on the side platforms (in a set-up similar to the Hunchback of Notre Dame). The graceful lines of the platforms serve as a palace, cathedral, country home and stable.  In lieu of conventional backdrops, the rear of the stage has a multi-paneled screen on which the various venues are very effectively projected.

Ever After 8 The marvelous voices of the cast are nicely supported by the large pit orchestra conducted by David Gardos. The particularly fine voiced leads are mostly Tony and Emmy honored performers. Margo Seibert (photo right) as Danielle has it all; the looks, singing voice, acting ability plus impressive athleticism (she was Adrian in Rocky on Broadway).

There is no mistaking the star quality, pure pro performance of multi-Tony award winner Christine Ebersole as the villainess Rodmilla. James Synder as Prince Henry makes a dashing prince. With his rich voice he properly commends attention with his musical numbers (Cruel Morning, Right Before My Eyes and Love Goes On with Margo Seibert.

Ever After 7 Tony Sheldon (photo right) is a standout as Leonardo DaVinci...great voice and gorgeous costumes. He scores in a second act duet with Margo Siebert What Should I Tell Him. The excellent key supporting actors include Mara Davi as the evil, 'spoiled brat' stepsister Marguerite,  Annie Funke as the good stepsister Jacqueline, Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Gustave, Danielle's loyal household friend, Charles Shaughnessy (photo above left) and Julie Halston both fine comedy performers as the King and Queen.

Ever After 9 One of the musical comedy highlights is Laurent (Charl Brown) and the Courtiers with Is There Anything Leonardo Can't Do? (photo right)The show has a considerable amount of music--26 numbers. The music Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich have provided is attractive, but not hummable (at least at first hearing). Plus in most cases the music stops rather than advances the plot. The same can be said of the dance numbers, however, the energetic dancers do put a bright spark in the proceedings.

The ensemble includes Jill Abramovitz, Ashley Blanchet, Nick Corley, Stephanie Elise Gandolfo, Gregg Goodbrod, John Hillner, Sean Martin Hingston, Gwen Hollander, Fred Inkley, Will Mann, Liz McCartney, Alison Morooney, Kevin Munhall, Kevin Michael Raponey, Rachael Scarr, Justin Schuman, Jonathan Shew and Aléna Watters.

The award-winning design team of Broadway veterans include Derek McLane (scenic and projection design), Jess Goldstein (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Nevin Steinberg (sound design), Mary-Mitchell Campbell (music supervision), David Gardos (music direction), Leah Loukas (hair and wig design), Rick Sordelet (fight direction) and Kim Vernace (production stage manager).

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio      May 31,2015
Ever After will be performed eight times a week through Sunday, June 21, 2015, Wednesday through Sunday. Performance schedule: Wednesday at 7:00pm, Thursday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm, Friday at 7:00pm, Saturday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm and Sunday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm.  Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.PaperMill.org.

Note: From September 1513 to 1516, under Pope Leo X, Leonardo spent much of his time living in the Vatican in Rome, where Raphael and Michelangelo were both active at the time. In October 1515,  Leonardo was present at the meeting of Francis I of France and Pope Leo X in Bologna.  In 1516, he entered Françis' service, being given the use of a manor house near the king's residence at the royal Château d'Amboise. It was here that he spent the last three years of his life. He is buried in the cemetery at Château d'Amboise.

Photos by Jerry Dalia/PMP

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