Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
The Phoenix Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of A Christmas Carol and The Children

Alex Branton and Joy Del Valle
Photo by Billy Hardiman
From "Some Enchanted Evening" to "We Kiss in a Shadow," Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote some of the most romantic songs for the musical theatre, and their Cinderella, which first appeared as a TV musical in 1957 before finally being presented on Broadway in 2013, is one of their most romantic shows. There have been numerous versions of this musical before, both on stage and on TV, and the most recent version, which has an updated book that takes a somewhat more modern spin on the classic fairy-tale story, is receiving its local premiere by The Phoenix Theatre Company in a well-cast production that is rich, romantic, and simply glorious.

The main plot still centers on the poor Cinderella, whose Fairy Godmother helps her to go the ball the Prince is throwing by transforming her rags into a beautiful gown, but she has to leave by midnight before her clothes are transformed back into the dirty garments they were before. However, if you're familiar with the TV versions of the musical, you'll find there have been many fun and fresh changes made for this new adaptation, including the addition of several other Rodgers and Hammerstein's songs from some of their lesser-known musicals, many of which were later cut from those shows. The updated book by Douglas Carter Beane fleshes out the characters so they are no longer the somewhat one-dimensional characters they are in the fairy tale, and also adds in a rich subplot and also a lot of humor.

Beane's book wisely beefs up the part of Cinderella, now called Ella, into a smart and caring woman who makes the Prince open his eyes to the less fortunate people in his kingdom and the injustice that's happening to them. Beane also gives the Prince a name–Topher, short for Christopher–and fleshes him out while also putting emphasis on Cinderella's stepsisters and stepmother as well as a few new characters. This new book is wonderful in how it updates the familiar tale and transforms it into one that focuses on the importance of social injustice, kindness, and helping out your fellow man.

As Ella, Joy Del Valle is bright and full of joy. She has a natural ease and an abundance of warmth that make Ella a woman you care for and want to see find her prince. Her singing voice shines with a clear delivery and understanding of the lyrics. Alex Branton does a lovely job as Topher, a man who doesn't realize until he meets Ella that he isn't as in touch with the world around him as he should be. Branton gets to deliver some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's loveliest songs, including "Ten Minutes Ago," and his voice soars on them.

Maria Amorocho plays two different roles, beggar woman Marie who lives in the woods and the fairy god mother Marie transforms into. She does exceptionally well with both. Sally Jo Bannow is superb as Madame, Ella's wicked stepmother. Bannow has wonderful comic timing which works well for the many funny lines this nasty woman delivers. As Ella's two stepsisters, Michelle Chin and Kate Cook are fun and lively. As the selfish Charlotte, Cook has humorous facial expressions and gestures that get big laughs and Chin is lovely and warm as Gabrielle, the sister who is sympathetic to Ella, which is a nice change Beane makes from the previous versions of this musical.

In slightly smaller roles, Kendrick Stallings does great work as Jean-Michel, a new character, and D. Scott Withers is fun as Sebastian, Topher's right hand who has devious plans of his own. Also, Aaron Ford's singing voice soars on his many solos as Lord Pinkleton.

Director Michael Barnard does an excellent job to ensure his cast create believable characters while also keeping the show moving along at a swift pace, with scene transitions that are superb. The sharp choreography by Nathaniel Shaw includes many varied dance styles, including several lavish dance sequences at the ball. The beautiful set design by Robert Kovach features several large pieces that move to transform the stage into the various locations in the show. The colorful and gorgeous costumes were designed by Vincent Scassellati and Kenneth Burrell and are rentals from the Kansas City Costume Company; they include several dresses that magically transform in front of our eyes into elaborate ballgowns. Tim Monson's lighting design is lovely and works extremely well to depict the various times of day in the show. Alan Plado's sharp music direction achieves rich vocals from the large cast and 13-piece orchestra. Dave Temby's sound design is crisp and clear.

With a modern sensibility and a fun, updated take on the classic fairy-tale characters, Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella at The Phoenix Theatre Company is a joyful and magical holiday treat.

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella runs through January 1, 2023, at the Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-254-2151.

Director/Musical Staging: Michael Barnard
Choreographer: Nathaniel Shaw
Musical Director: Alan Plado
Scenic Designer: Robert Kovach
Lighting Designer: Tim Monson
Costume Coordinator: CeCe Sickler
Sound Designer: Dave Temby
Properties Master: Sarah Harris
Director of Production: Karla Frederick
Company Manager/Associate Production Manager: Tyler Welden
Stage Manager: Samantha Monson*
Asst. Stage Manager: Michelle Elias*
Asst. Stage Manager: Katherine Roll Lang*
Costumes Designed by Vincent Scassellati and Kenneth Burrell
Costumes and Wigs provided by The Kansas City Costume Company

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Marie: Maria Amorocho*
Madame: Sally Jo Bannow*
Dance Ensemble: Shani Barrett
Ensemble: Maggie Barry
Topher: Alex Branton*
Gabrielle: Michelle Chin
Ensemble: Lucas Coatney*
Charlotte: Kate Cook*
Ensemble: Brooke Leigh Davis
Ella: Joy Del Valle*
Lord Pinkleton: Aaron Ford
Ensemble: Jari Haile
Dance Ensemble: Morgan Faith Jackson
Ensemble: Teddy Ladley
Dance Ensemble: Michelle Lemon
Dance Ensemble: Darren McArthur
Dance Ensemble: Kayden Oliver
Dance Ensemble: Daniel Powers*
Jean-Michel: Kendrick Stallings
Ensemble: Mark Stoddard
Sebastian: D. Scott Withers*

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.