Theatre fans in Atlanta have been waiting patiently over a year for the $32 million renovation of Alliance Theatre’s mainstage. The wait is over. The sparkling new Coca-Cola Stage is here, in time for Alliance’s 50th Anniversary; and the first offering is the musical “Ever After,” directed by Susan V. Booth, running through Feb. 17.
Based on the 1998 movie starring Drew Barrymore, this is a lush musical with book and lyrics by Marcy Heisler and music by Zina Goldrich, a full orchestra and a 28-member cast, many imported from Broadway, all there to entertain you with song and dance and gorgeous 16th Century costumes by Linda Cho.
This is a Cinderella (not her name here) story with a twist. There’s an old convention in musical theatre called The Girl’s First Song, in which the heroine states who she is, what she wants, and hints at the perils that could befall her. Think of “A Cockeyed Optimist” from “South Pacific” or “I’m the Greatest Star” from “Funny Girl.”
Here our Cinderella, called Danielle de Barbarac, played by Broadway’s Sierra Boggess, sings “Who Needs Love?” We know immediately that Danielle is a young woman with gumption and a mind of her own. We could debate her premise, but there’s no doubt she’s an early member of the feminist movement.
We first meet Danielle as a little girl (Bella Yantis), as her adoring father Auguste (Corey James Wright) sings her a lullaby, just after he has brought his new wife and stepdaughters home: “When two hearts are joined like yours and mine/ There is no such thing as ‘gone’/ Ever after, ever after, love goes on.” Unfortunately, the program does not list the names of songs (why?), so I can only give you one or two. There are a lot.
Sad to say, Auguste dies early, leaving Danielle to the ever-so-unloving care of her stepmother, Baroness Rodmilla (Rachel York), accompanied by her two daughters: mean Marguerite (Jenny Ashman) and the ditsy Jacqueline (Rachel Flynn, in a fine comic performance). Ten years have passed, and Danielle is a virtual servant to the others.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, we have King Francis (Chris Kayser) and Queen Marie (Terry Burrell), both Atlanta-based performers who are smooth as silk. The King has decreed that his son, the handsome prince Henry (Tim Rogan), marry a Spanish princess. This displeases Henry, and he promptly heads for the forest, where he meets, you guessed it, Danielle. It’s not love at first sight, but we sense romance in the air. Ms. Boggess and Mr. Rogan are both charming and very gifted. When Ms. Boggess sings, she rivets attention; she is magnetic.
“Ever After” has an ace in the hole: Instead of a traditional fairy godmother, we have none other than Leonardo da Vinci (splendidly played by Broadway’s David Garrison). He is a delightfully goofy genius; his presence enlivens the whole evening. Don’t worry, he’s there for Cinderella—oops, Danielle. I can’t tell you further permutations of the plot. There’s lots of spirited dancing, choreographed by Joann M. Hunter. I want to mention Broadway’s Jeff McCarthy, who plays the morally bereft Pierre Malette; he’s quite fine. I wish I could mention more; it’s a large cast.
Now comes a puzzlement: Despite all the color, romance, music and dancing (and it’s seductive), the play itself is not as dramatically compelling as one would wish. The songs are fine and serviceable, but not terribly memorable. If the show aims for Broadway, and you know that Alliance Theatre has a history of that, there will be some major tweaking. This isn’t bad; any show does that.
And I loved watching it—so did the glittering opening night audience. I just also think it would be fun for the brilliant Ms. Booth to sink her teeth into a classic like “West Side Story”; I hope she does one day.
Meanwhile, “Ever After” is full of charm and beauty with all the resources of Atlanta’s premier theatre backing it up. It’s an event you should not miss.
For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.