For a night of enchantment, music and optimism, you can’t afford to miss “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” playing now through June 4 on the Four County Players Mainstage.
Full disclosure: Out of all the productions by Four County Players this year, “Cinderella” is the one I was originally least excited to see. It’s not that I didn’t expect a good production; I’m just not a princess story type of person.
However, with an open mind and a ticket in hand, I walked into the theater on Saturday night, hoping for the best.
And I’m thoroughly glad that I did.
Four County Players has wrapped up its 50th season with a mesmerizing, funny and surprisingly relatable take on the classic fairytale. Whether you like fairytales or not, there’s truly something in it for everyone.
Part of the success of this production lies in the scriptwriting talents of Douglas Carter Beane, whose creative retelling of “Cinderella” breathes new life into the original story while expertly utilizing well-known Rodgers and Hammerstein songs — plus a few previously unreleased ones.
With reimagined, more nuanced characters and some smart satirical takes on the systemic injustices that can go along with power, this is a wittier and more modern version than many of its predecessors. When one of the characters enthusiastically suggests putting on a ball as a “distraction” from unrest in the kingdom, one can’t help but wonder if much has changed since “once upon a time.”
Our main character has been fleshed out too, and this time she’s choosing her own destiny. Rather being subject to the whims of a royal court, this version of Ella stands out not just for her beauty, but for her kindness and tenacity. At one point, loveable revolutionary Jean-Michel sings, “You can’t just wait to be served by fate on a silver plate or tray,” perfectly summing up the sentiment of Beane’s adaptation, in which the actions and decisions of each character meaningfully affect the outcome.
A focus on the themes of possibility and hope have persisted throughout different versions of “Cinderella,” but the message seems especially welcome in the modern age, where it’s easy to get bogged down by the news cycle and the collective trauma of post-pandemic life. When the fairy godmother declares to a worn-down Ella that “impossible things are happening every day,” the optimism contained in those lyrics feels as timely as ever.
And for those who do love the original fairytale, don’t fret: This musical has all of the sparkle, romance and magic that made “Cinderella” a classic in the first place. Set design for the Four County Players production has the rich, illustrative feel of the best storybooks, making you want jump right in, and without giving too much away, some special tricks related to the costumes had the audience applauding each time.
Regarding casting, Eliza Banaszak and Thaddeus Lane are a brilliant match as Ella and Prince Topher, both in technical ability and chemistry. Each play their respective parts with mix of charisma and gentleness that make it easy to root them from the first scene. Even the less virtuous characters, such as Soren Corbett’s Lord Pinkleton, are magnetic and likeable in their own way, and Corbett’s stage presence is expansive.
Singing and choreography in the Four County Players production are top-notch across the board. It’s the kind of performance that brings home how fortunate central Virginia is to have this small but impressive community theater.
So, despite my initial reservations, this final production of the Four County Players’ 50th season is one you should absolutely plan to see. “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” makes seemingly impossible things possible — things like true love, justice and, yes, making me like a princess story after all.
“Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” runs weekends from May 12 to June 4 at the Four County Players theater, located at 5256 Governor Barbour St. in Barboursville. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.fourcp.org or call the box office at (540) 832-5355.