June 1, 2015

The Cinderella story received a realistic reboot in the 1998 movie “Ever After,” in which Drew Barrymore portrayed the heroine as a spunky, take-charge girl who wins her prince without benefit of any supernatural intervention, or even a glass slipper. The popular film has now become — surprise! — a storybook-pretty if bland stage musical, making its premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse, with Margo Seibert supplying the requisite spunk in the central role, Christine Ebersole taking over from Anjelica Huston as the wicked stepmother, and the experienced Kathleen Marshall directing and supplying the dances. The musical, with book and lyrics by Marcy Heisler and music by Zina Goldrich (known for their children’s musicals “Dear Edwina” and “Junie B. Jones” as well as some cabaret songs), doesn’t do much tinkering with the movie’s story line. In the opening sequence, the young Danielle de Barbarac, who’s never specifically referred to as Cinderella, delights in the prospect of acquiring a new mother and sisters. The title song is an adoring lullaby sung by her father, Auguste (Fred Inkley), to Danielle, 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.” There is, alas, such a thing as cardiac arrest, and no sooner has he sung these words than Auguste has died, leaving Danielle to the untender care of her stepmother, Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent (Ms. Ebersole). A decade passes, and the grown Danielle (Ms. Seibert) has now become the family drudge, a virtual servant tending to the whims of Rodmilla and her mean-girl daughter Marguerite (Mara Davi), with Marguerite’s sister Jacqueline (Annie Funke) looking on with subversive sympathy. Meanwhile, over at the palace, King Francis (Charles Shaughnessy) has decreed that his son, Henry (James Snyder), will marry a Spanish princess, a decision that doesn’t sit well with the rebellious prince. As in the movie, hero and heroine meet cute when he flees the castle and attempts to steal Danielle’s dead father’s horse, only to find himself taking fire from an outraged Danielle, who pelts him with apples she’s been collecting.