Cinderella and her Cincinnati created entourage of animal friends are back at the Ensemble Theatre for ETC’s annual holiday show. Ahead of the December 2nd opening night, playwright Joe McDonough reflected on and answered questions about the “fractured fairytale” Lynn Myers, producing artistic director, first commissioned in 2005. This marks its third production.
McDonough has an obvious fondness for his Cinderella, and gives full credit to David Kisor, who wrote the lyrics, and composer Fitz Patton. “The story has a magical feel to it. David did a wonderful job in fitting into Fitz’s musical style.” McDonough and Kisor have collaborated on eight productions for ETC, dating back to 1997’s The Frog Princess. Because of Kisor’s schedule, Patton wrote Cinderella’s score.
Looking back at this Cinderella‘s origins, McDonough said, at the time, “we had not done a new show in a few years. Lynn thought it was time for a new one.” Thus Cinderella joined Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Around the World in 80 Days, Ugly Duck, and The Frog Princess in the Meyers-McDonough-Kisor axis of original, commissioned family friendly holiday shows in the ETC annual line up. Asked about future titles, McDonough replied nothing is in the works but it is “always possible that there could be a new one.”
His Cinderella is more Disney’s than Grimm’s fairytale, but with a foot sought to fit a sneaker, not a slipper, this is a Cincinnati original. “The story lends itself to being humorous. Cinderella is a little bit daft. She is not in peril. So I focused on the humor. Our style is to put a modern spin on it, to make it a contemporary tale, with a little bit of surprise.” As a family friendly production, the Grimm’s brothers telling of the bloody slicing of one step-sister’s toe to fit the slipper and the second sister cutting off her heel to succeed, was left out. “We did not want to go there,” remembered McDonough. That did not seem to be a family oriented theme (or at least not a 21st century American holiday one).
So, this Cinderella doesn’t want to go to the Ball, preferring to stay home with her books. Prince Freddy is equally romantically-challenged, a newly minted and returned to town PhD. Rather than having a prince being charmed by the beauty in the beautiful gown and dancing all night with her, Meyers urged McDonough to find the heart of the story and reveal that. Taking the familiar fairytale framework (spoiler alert: the prince and Cinderella are united at the end), the playwright spun it so the search would be for inner beauty. Prince Freddy sees inside the person; “looked into the heart and soul of a person,” is the way McDonough put it.
Still, the story is “great for kids” as well as adults. “Our approach is not to write for kids. We write for adults. We know kids are smart. They will pick up on things. The kids come along for the ride,” McDonough said. He believes everyone will be taken by the production: “The design is bright and colorful. It is eye popping visually. That’s the style of Brian (set and lighting designer Brian C. Mehring) and Reba (Senske, costume designer). He also gave a shout out to “the great cast.”
McDonough might have some bias, but by his lights “Lynn and everybody did a fantastic job.” Attend the show and see if the writer has it right. Wednesday is opening night. The production runs through January 3rd.