Song, dance and a bit of poetry bring to life a fairytale world of magic spells, good and evil, and love and betrayal in the world premiere musical, “Ella Enchanted,” on stage at Adventure Theatre MTC in Glen Echo Park.
Added to the spellbinding show are ogres, giants, birds and fairies, all giving color to a story that is more than a shadow of the Cinderella tale. The musical production was written by Karen Zacarias with music by Deborah Wicks La Puma, based on Gail Carson Levine’s Newbery Honor book of the same title. It is a co-commission of Adventure Theatre MTC and First Stage, Milwaukee, Wisc.
“It’s just a really great modern musical about female empowerment without being didactic,” said Michael J. Bobbitt, Adventure Theatre MTC’s artistic director and the show’s choreographer. “It’s great for girls and for boys.”
Bobbitt became aware of the story of “Ella Enchanted” about four years ago, and was delighted to get the rights to the show. “I wanted a great female writer,” he said. Zacarias and La Puma created a show that is better than he had imagined, he said. “It’s great to see it go from an idea in my head to theater.”
Zacarias acknowledged the challenge of taking Carson’s 300-page book and adapting it to a stage performance for seven actors; she said she focused on the character of Ella and the power of language.
The story of Ella of Frell begins when she is a baby and receives the gift of obedience from the well-meaning but mischievous fairy Lucinda. It includes all the elements of the traditional Cinderella story: a wicked stepmother, two jealous and not so nice stepsisters, a charming prince and a happy ending.
But getting to that ending takes Ella through good and bad times brought on by her “gift” of obedience. Being required to obey all direct commands becomes a curse for Ella, one she tries to hide because it can be used for evil and one she tries to overcome. Unfortunately, she believes it can only be changed by the elusive Lucinda.
Her curse also gives her time to be alone and make friends with the ogres, giants and birds of the forest. She even learns their languages. Did you know that a group of ogres is called a “slime?” Or that “Ogre-ese” makes things sound sweet? Zacarias does and added such facts to the play’s clever dialogue.
Zacarias also said she came up with the idea of obedience because she always wondered why Cinderella was so submissive. “It’s hard to understand why Cinderella was so passive,” she said. “This gives an interesting reason.”
Unable to get Lucinda to take back her gift, Ella must learn to change her life herself. Through twists and turns, with the help of her friends from the woods, and her belief in true love–yes, there is a kind and handsome prince, Prince of Char–Ella can break out of the need to be obedient.
“Ella has all the challenges of every Cinderella plus trying to live with and to break the curse of obedience,” said Mary Hall Surface, director. “Her quest for freedom and self-discovery requires her to face fear and bravery, good and evil, love and loss – a quest all young people experience as they grow up. Her strong, smart, compassionate choices lead her to find her own powerful voice.”
“Ella Enchanted” is at Adventure Theatre MTC, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, from Feb. 3 through March 19. Opening night, 7 p.m. Feb. 3, is also a cash only “pay what you can” pajama party; children are encouraged to wear pajamas, and cookies and milk will be served after the show. For regular tickets, $19.50, visit www.adventuretheatre-mct.org or call 301-634-2270. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.