We gave it a B
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the agreeable 1998 film Ever After—which took some Cinderella liberties with the classic tale—is the moment in which a nervous, glittering, butterfly-winged Drew Barrymore enters the climactic ball with a sighed refrain of “Just breathe.” Do not worry, fans: the new musical version of Ever After is not devoid of that empowering moment. And though we may be on the cusp of princess fatigue given that Disney just unveiled a new Cinderella coupled with the fact that this pleasant, sweetly old-fashioned production is not yet at its most ideal stage, this Paper Mill Playhouse production (playing at the Millburn, NJ venue through June 21) proves there’s still life in the old gal yet.
Danielle de Barbarac (Rocky’s Margo Seibert) is a soot-covered servant under the thumb of Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent (Christine Ebersole, ideally cast), a stepmother whose disposition rhymes with ‘itch’, who dreams of the ability to dive into books and live a full life without a man defining her. No mice or pumpkin-carriages here, but there is a Prince named Henry (If/Then’s James Snyder), who becomes her fancy, but the twist here is that our heroine often rescues him and not vice versa. His merry band includes a sly-tongued captain (Charl Brown) and none other than Leonardo da Vinci (the delightful Tony Sheldon), who both keep him out of trouble with his royal folks (Charles Shaughnessy and Julie Halston), after Henry makes several attempts to break free of several arranged, doomed nuptials.
This literate, faithful adaptation—blessed with a gorgeous score by longtime collaborators Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich—appears to be on the fast track to Broadway (like Paper Mill’s Newsies and Honeymoon in Vegas before it), and we’ve been taught that pre-teen girls make for some serious ka-ching at the box office. (Lest one forget, Wicked is now in its 12th year on the Great Way.) But before it gets there, director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes)—whose fancy footwork is best shown in a fun Act I number about Danielle becoming a Gypsy queen—might need to remove some of the lumps. The first act is overstuffed and too long (and that creepy Pierre guy who sleazes over Danielle is just as chuck-worthy as it was in the movie), and as golden-voiced as she is, Seibert isn’t quite as adept with light comedy as her silver-screen predecessor—it probably doesn’t help either that she’s surrounded by some of the choicest cut-ups in the biz, like Ebersole, Halston and Sheldon.
Just to glance at the list of names above is like putting together your own Broadway party of super-talents, and if some of them are a tad squandered, they all make notable contributions; Snyder, in particular, actually exceeds his cinematic counterpart (he sounds marvelous too—young male Broadway hopefuls will be auditioning Prince Henry’s soaring “Right Before My Eyes” for years to come). Ever After isn’t yet a dream (or a wish) your heart makes, but with a little tidying up, it’s well on its way to being the ultimate in bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. B