by Matt Roberson · June 4, 2015
The Company of Ever After | Jerry Dalia
It’s a great time for fairy tales. The bland, ‘all-good versus all-evil’ versions of my youth have been replaced by stories that are just as fun, but now filled with real characters facing real threats. It’s this same spirit - along with an incredible cast and style - that makes Paper Mill’s current production of Ever After an entirely enjoyable evening of theatre.
Based on a 1998 film of the same name, this story of “Cinderella” has no time for glass slippers, horse-drawn pumpkins and fairy godmothers. In fact, I only recall once hearing that name used. More often, the young Danielle de Barbarac is called “Cindersoot”; a cruel reminder of the hard, filthy work she’s forced to do by her stepmother and sole guardian, Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent.
On the other side of the moat is Henry, a young prince raging against the political life being forced upon him. Like Dianne, he wants the power to decide his own future. Unlike her though, he kind of can. And does, running away and into the woods. It’s here, in a place free from the rules of court and demands of wicked step-family, that our two lovers first meet as well as share in several of the play’s most beautiful and moving scenes.
What really makes Ever After special though, is the thoughtful attention paid to everyone else. In Christine Ebersol’s moving solo “After All,” we see the selfish, but also maternal, instincts behind Rodmilla’s constant scheming and harsh actions. Wearing a dressing gown and looking tired from it all, we’re left with at least a sliver of hope that one day, Danielle’s initial love for her stepmother will be returned. And though we only briefly see Danielle’s father, the devotion and love he displays toward her is clearly the inspiration for her unbreakable spirit of hopeful determination.
Equally compelling for me in this particular retelling is the sense that there is more at stake than just the eternal bliss of our two lovers. The lower class, like Danielle and those around her, are suffering. Their daily toil offers little reward, and at any moment, they can be chained and led away to an even harsher fate. But in the partnership of Danielle and Henry, which shines beautifully in the Act 1 closer “Out of the Darkness,” we see the possibility of something good. A better life, not just for Danielle and Henry, but for the kingdom.
As Danielle, Margo Seibert is perfect, giving us a clear, soaring voice and performance brimming with grit, humanity and humor. But she’s hardly alone. As her prince, James Snyder is strong, especially when singing. Christine Ebersole, Julie Halston, and Tony Sheldon also turn in memorable performances.
Jess Goldstein wraps this great cast in rich and endlessly varied costumes, which visually pop against Derek McLane’s minimal but highly adaptable set. And pulling all of these brilliant elements together is director Kathleen Marshall, who pushes the play, and a valiant backstage crew, hard, creating a pace that’s quick but precise. Little time is wasted, allowing the story’s many scenes to flow seamlessly to the end.
I won’t say getting to New Jersey’s Paper Mill will be easy. Even with a car, I battled monsoon-lite rains and nearly plowed, KIA-first, into a flooded street (#GoogleMapsFail). But trust me: whatever challenges you face will be rewarded with one of the most enjoyable evenings of theatre on either side of the Hudson.