'Ever After': Theater Review

Ever After Production Still - H 2015
Jerry Dalia

Ever After Production Still - H 2015

An underwhelming show that suggests we've been to the Cinderella ball once too often

This musical adaptation of the 1998 Drew Barrymore movie receives its world premiere at New Jersey's largest regional theater, featuring a first-rate cast of Broadway veterans.

It's understandable if audiences are beginning to feel a little Cinderella fatigue. In the last year alone there's been the Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, both a screen version and an acclaimed off-Broadway revival of Into the Woods, and Disney's lavish live-action remake of its animated classic. Now comes Ever After, a theatrical musical adaptation of the 1998 Drew Barrymore movie receiving its world premiere at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse.

Not that its lead character is actually named Cinderella, mind you. Instead, she's Danielle (Margo Seibert), and in the currently popular revisionist fashion she's a feisty heroine who's more interested in the social and economic themes of Thomas More's classic Utopia than romance. Rather than looking for Prince Charming, she sings "Who Needs Love?" And she's strong enough to physically lift Prince Henry (James Snyder), which comes in handy when they're confronted by a roving band of gypsies.

There is no fairy godmother, unless you count the artist-inventor Leonardo da Vinci (Tony Sheldon), who plays roughly the same role, nor a coach that turns into a pumpkin. The stepmother, here named Rodmilla (Christine Ebersole), is less wicked than merely obnoxious, and one of the stepsisters is actually nice.

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But for all the updating, the show is never transporting. The ballad-heavy score by composer Zina Goldrich and lyricist Marcy Heisler, whose credits include several children's musicals, is more serviceable than stirring, and Heisler's book, largely faithful to the film, similarly fails to catch fire. It all feels too sophisticated for young children while lacking the wit necessary to engage older audiences.

As is typical with Paper Mill shows, the production is admirably lavish, with Derek McLane's versatile sets and Jess Goldstein's gorgeous costumes evoking the 16th century Renaissance setting. But director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall (whose extensive Broadway credits include Nice Work If You Can Get and Anything Goes, among many others) has delivered an uninspired staging. Only a few numbers, such as the lively "All Hail the Gypsy Queen," produce any real excitement.

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And while a first-rate cast has been assembled for the occasion, they too often make little impression. Seibert, who played Adrian in last year's short-lived Broadway musical Rocky, is an appealing, spunky Danielle; and two-time Tony Award-winner Ebersole (42nd Street, Grey Gardens) is deliciously fun as her nemesis (although not as amusing as Anjelica Huston in the film). But the ridiculously handsome Synder (Cry-Baby, If/Then), although he sings beautifully, makes for a bland prince, while Sheldon, so brilliant in Broadway's Priscilla Queen of the Desert, doesn’t do much with the underwritten da Vinci.

More egregiously, the charming Charles Shaughnessy (TV's The Nanny) and the usually hilarious Julie Halston are wasted as the king and queen, as are such pros as Charl Brown (Motown: The Musical) and Andrew Keenan-Bolger in their supporting roles.

The New Jersey theater has lately proven itself a reliable testing ground for Broadway-bound musicals, launching such shows as Newsies and Honeymoon in Vegas, which transferred with varying degrees of success. There are surely similar hopes for this long-gestating musical, which has been in development for over a decade. But it will probably take a real fairy godmother to pull off a similar leap for this pleasant but underwhelming musical, with regional and stock productions looking like a far more likely possibility.

Cast: Charl Brown, Mara Davi, Christine Ebersole, Annie Funke, Julie Halston, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Margo Seibert, Charles Shaughnessy, Tony Sheldon, James Snyder
Director-choreographer: Kathleen Marshall

Book & lyrics: Marcy Heisler
Music: Zina Goldrich
Set designer: Derek McLane
Costume designer: Jess Goldstein
Lighting designer: Petr Kaczorowski
Sound designer: Nevin Steinberg
Projection designers: Olivia Sebesky, Derek McLane
Presented by Paper Mill Playhouse