Play Review: ‘Cinderella’ Entertains at Youngstown Playhouse

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.

With a near full house Friday night, complete with little girls wearing their favorite Cinderella dresses, the Youngstown Playhouse kicked off its holiday production of “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”

It has been 20 years since the Playhouse last staged this version of the classic fairy tale, and this production comes complete with a cast of 40 energetic actors of all ages. 

I doubt there is anyone not familiar with the storyline of poor Cinderella being a servant to her wicked stepmother and mean stepsisters. It has had numerous tellings and retellings, even including a 1960 film with Jerry Lewis, titled “Cinderfella.”

Well, this version seems a bit different than the one previously done at the Playhouse, but with the same premise and results. Elizabeth Huff plays a very enjoyable and pleasing Cinderella. She seems quite at home with the character, and her vocal abilities are first rate in every department. She is a hit with the audience immediately with “In My Own Little Corner” and “Ten Minutes Ago” (with the Prince). She is engaging and sells the role every inch of the way.

Wayne Bonner III portrays the Prince. Unfortunately, he was hampered in his first appearance in Act I due to a nonworking mic. Much, if not all of his lines were unheard unless you were in the first 10 rows of the theater. He fared somewhat better in Act II. Bonner, however, is not real strong vocally, and his duets with Huff did not blend well. Huff’s voice dominated to a point of sometimes muting Bonner’s completely.

Connie Cassidy gives another outstanding performance as the Stepmother. Cassidy shines in these over-the-top character roles where she can really sink her teeth into every line and facial expression that she can summon up. The art, which she has perfected, is to do these roles without upstaging anyone else.

Cinderella’s stepsisters, Joy and Portia, are played with relish by Sierra Ellis and Kayla Fenstermaker, respectively. Both actresses team up well in their never-ending taunts of Cinderella. Their comedy timing plays well, and they are particularly enjoyable with “Stepsisters’ Lament.”

Liz Conrad returns to the Playhouse stage as Fairy Godmother. Conrad’s interpretation of the role is a little different than what is usually seen. Instead of playing the role as the friendly grandmother type, she goes the route of an almost contemporary of Cinderella’s. The age angle isn’t even approached. She does the role well, but some of the “magic” of the role seems to get sacrificed in the process.

King and Queen, parents to the Prince, are well-played by Terry Shears and Amy Burd. They have a pleasant duet, the title of which I can’t recall, since the Playhouse refuses to include musical numbers in the program, and finding it on the internet isn’t worth wasting the time with the numerous different musical listings for this show. Each time I searched, a different one came up.

Craig Conrad makes numerous appearances as Herald. With a great singing voice, he unfortunately has only one solo musical number, “The Prince Is Giving a Ball.” But his acting makes up for that, including a creative opening speech leading into the show. He gave Herald some personality and some comic turns.

“Cinderella” features a great kids ensemble and dancing ensemble. It was great to see so many young kids in this show, and you could tell that they were having the time of their lives. Credit goes to choreographer Emelia Sherin for both working with the kids and the other dance numbers in the show.

“Cinderella” features direction by Emma Wason and musical direction by Tyler Stouffer. Scenic design by Tom Hitmar was relatively simple, with minimal set pieces played against flown in curtains and walls. The ball scene seemed way too minimal, almost as though everything didn’t make it on stage – rather bland.

Costumes by Cassidy were, for the most part, well done. Cinderella’s ball gown, however, was a bit disappointing and seemed like an afterthought.

This is always a good show to stage around the holiday season. With so many Christmas shows everywhere, this is a great opportunity to see something different. The opening night audience certainly seemed to enjoy it, even with the absence of a live orchestra. This is great family entertainment, so try to catch it.

“Cinderella” will continue at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 8 and 9, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 10.

Pictured at top: Elizabeth Huff and Wayne Bonner III in a scene from the Youngstown Playhouse’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.