Ever After, Paper Mill Playhouse’s latest effort to produce a new musical with enough legs to get to Broadway, offers a few moments of musical theater bliss, but the hodgepodge retelling of the Cinderella-inspired 1998 film starring Drew Barrymore doesn’t yet have the spark or continuity needed to warrant a big budget move to the Great White Way.
Director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall (Living On Love, Nice Work if You Can Get It, Anything Goes) does a serviceable job with Marcy Heisler (book and lyrics) and Zina Goldrich’s (music) faithful adaptation. Danielle (Margot Seibert) becomes the family servant after the sudden death of her father, forced to attend to an icy cold stepmother Rodmilla (Christine Ebersole) and stepsisters (Mara Davi, Annie Funke). As expected, she crosses paths with an unhappy prince (James Snyder), first as a peasant, then as a not so cleverly disguised woman of means, in order to free one of her fellow servants from being shipped off to America (which doesn’t seem like the most terrible thing given the state of affairs in the kingdom).
Seibert, who garnered much attention for her turn as Adrian in Broadway’s short-lived Rocky, offers a feisty riff on the Cinderella template. Occasionally sulky with a voice that straddles between a chesty belt and foggy soprano, she’s a bit of an anti-hero. There’s no mistaking that this girl is tired of doing the dishes. As her conventional suitor, Snyder fulfills his princely duties. Ebersole (Grey Gardens, 42nd Street) is not so much the wicked stepmother (though locking Danielle in the cellar and giving away her wedding dress might imply otherwise) as a woman trapped by her own circumstance—funneling the rage for her own discontent life into the abuse of her stepdaughter.
As in the film, Leonardo da Vinci (Tony Sheldon) appears as quirky inspiration to help keep the storyline on track. Sheldon (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) is magnetic onstage and a far more captivating subplot than Prince Henry’s awkwardly anachronistic sidekick Captain Laurent (Charl Brown), who looks like he just stepped off the L train for a Halloween party in Bushwick.
Marshall does her best to razzle dazzle the script with a few well-intentioned but awkward dance breaks, including an odd number in Act One when a band of gypsies hail Danielle as their queen, as well as a royal court tribute to de Vinci, “Is There Anything Leonardo Can’t Do?” (The answer being, of course, get this show back on course.) Heisler and Goldrich have crafted some soaring melodies, including Rodmilla’s “After All” and the Act One finale, “Out of the Darkness.”
Ever After would be immensely served by the aid of a dramaturg, who might have been able to tighten up unraveling intentions and conflicting styles. By the very nature of the title, it’s a family show, but Ever After is neither magical nor transformative enough to capture the audience’s heart. The design team doesn’t help matters. Costumes lean somewhat toward late 13th century yet there’s a scene where Danielle, in disguise, is drinking afternoon tea with Henry’s mother, Queen Marie (Julie Halston), which feels more like 19th century England—huh? And that magical moment at the end of the film where Danielle appears with de Vinci-inspired angel wings is reduced to a flimsy recreation that produces chuckles more than awes.
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ
Through June 21
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @roodeloo.