Hitch Up Your Pumpkin and Go to the Ball

2nd Star Production’s Cinderella is keeping up the tradition. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical adaptation of the fairy tale has been delighting audiences of all ages for over 50 years. This Cinderella, playing for the next four weekends at the Bowie Playhouse, is so enrapturing that I found myself scribbling hearts instead of stars to mark the highlights. Brilliant attention to detail, particularly in Act I, distinguishes a classic that, in less capable hands, might run on reputation alone. For a small troupe with limited resources, 2nd Star can attract the talent and pour on the magic.
    With no reliance on cosmetic tricks, a shabby Cinderella in her prime (Pam Shilling) still outshines her attractive and younger stepsisters, the sourpuss Joy (Lisa Gregg) and mindless Portia (Malarie Novotny). All three actresses understand their roles intimately, from Cinderella’s wistful “In My Own Little Corner” to Joy and Portia’s hilarious “Step Sisters’ Lament.” Step Mother (Heidi Toll), so full of herself that even her bustle bounces, provokes giggles. When the four harmonize in “A Lovely Night,” the sound is so unified it is almost belies the family discord.
    The royal family is a model of domestic tranquility. The fussy Queen (Linda Swann) fawns over her weary King (Wendell Holland) and frets about the Prince’s (John Scheeler) happiness, as well she might for his failure to launch. He has just returned from studies abroad on what appears to be the modern 15-year plan, but no matter. He has matured into a courtly and attractive Prince Charming, and when Cinderella ignites his spark, they unite in perfect harmony for the lush duets “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful.”
    Romantic chemistry is not the only love radiating from the stage. The chorus is clearly having a great time as subjects who love their royals, perhaps none more than the Herald (Zac Fadler), who opens the show with his thrilling proclamation “The Prince Is Giving A Ball.”
    Even the bit actors are invested at all times. Cinderella has her fan club à la Disney in the form of three adorable children costumed as mice whose sympathetic body language conveys the depth of their admiration, and the silent Footman (Todd Cunningham) is so stately his mere presence transcends the need for words. Of course it is the devoted Fairy Godmother (Debe Tighe) who makes it all happen with her “Impossible” and incandescent gift of love, complete with lasers, sparkles, sequined show girls and three dancing white horses.
    A visually rich production, from the extravagant sets, costumes and special effects to the clever staging and choreography of a 31-member ensemble, Cinderella almost always gives us something to watch. Even the ballroom clock ticks off the minutes to midnight.
    Frequent scene changes and a plodding resolution to the love story temporarily sap the story’s momentum in Act III. But the finale revives the magic, and royal watchers among the audience go wild at the appearance of a guest celebrity at the wedding, a moment you will not want to miss.
    This dreamy musical with a slapstick sensibility is a treat for the whole family. To sweeten the deal, little princes and princesses who come in costume receive a free magic wand. So hitch up your pumpkin and go to the ball.

    Cinderella: by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Musical director: Joe Biddle. Choreographer: Vicki Smith. Costumer: Linda Swann. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde.

    Playing thru July 2 at 8pm FSa (except Sa July 2 at 3pm); 3pm Su at Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park, Rt. 3, Bowie. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndStarProductions.com.