When is a gift more of a curse? When it’s the “gift” of obedience that Ella’s misguided fairy godmother bestows upon her at birth.
Childsplay brings “Ella Enchanted: The Musical” to the stage at the Herberger Theater Center Dec. 15-30. Recommended for ages 5 and up, “Ella Enchanted” has been adapted from the Newbery Honor Book by Gail Carson Levine. Some may remember the 2004 film starring Anne Hathaway.
Directing the production is Dwayne Hartford, Childsplay’s artistic director, who explains why the plot is compelling.
“Certainly parents teaching obedience for the safety of the child and for others is a good thing,” he says. “But blind obedience takes away the voice and agency of a child.”
He notes that “Ella Enchanted” is about a girl who must obey any order given to her, despite the consequences. At first, her mother is able to protect her from people who might take advantage of the situation. “But when Ella loses that safety net, she is helpless against others who use her obedience for their own purposes,” Hartford says. “Ella must find a way to take control of her own actions.”
Childsplay calls “Ella Enchanted” an “empowering fairy tale.” Hartford says he hopes girls and boys watching the play will be reminded that they have the power to make their own decisions, and that they “will be encouraged to guide those decisions with respect, love, and empathy.”
“I believe in today’s society, young girls especially need to hear that they have this power over their own bodies and lives,” Hartford says, adding “Ella Enchanted” has “a very contemporary sound and feel to it … a Cinderella story with a modern twist. This girl doesn’t need a fairy godmother or a handsome prince to save her, although she has both. … And in the end, she decides what happily ever after means for her.”
Playing the smart and brave Ella is Michelle Chin, with Trisha Ditsworth as Fairy Godmother Lucinda. Vinny Chavez is Prince Charmont, and Katie McFadzen is the stepmother, Dame Olga. Chin believes “Ella Enchanted” conveys the idea that “we don’t need potions and spells to create ‘magic.’ Friendship, love, kindness and inner strength are just as magical.”
“The beauty of the story is that her strength and power come from love and friendship,” Hartford agrees.
Chin says she wanted to play the role of Ella partly because she was drawn to Ella’s strength, wit and intelligence.
“I really love that she is not your typical ingénue or princess. She is independent and spirited.” Chin doesn’t want to give anything away, but she does say that one of Ella’s final moments with Prince Charmont always makes her smile, “and it’s definitely not your typical happy ending!”
Chin is also impressed by the “wondrous world that our design team has created for this show,” as well as by the “wonderful director, choreographer, and music director.” Not to mention all of the “evil-hearted” characters in the show, who she says are “lovely artists to work with in real life — just really convincing actors.”
Why should audiences go see “Ella Enchanted?”
“The musical is very funny, with a beautiful, big heart,” Hartford says. It “has something for the whole family: great songs, beautiful costumes and scenery, many ridiculously funny moments, including a song with ogres who like to eat people … and giants who love to dance and have a good time.”