Review: ‘Ella Enchanted’ at Adventure Theatre

Glen Echo Park is a hidden gem that’s a blast from the past. As if Ella Enchanted at Adventure Theatre MTC wasn’t enough fun on its own, the park was a delight to walk through on the way to the theatre. This Ella Enchanted musical is a world premiere written by Karen Zacarías, composed by Deborah Wicks La Puma, and adapted from the book by Gail Carson Levine. Mary Hall Surface also directed it.

Lara Zinn (the Bird) and Malinda Kathleen Reese (Ella). Photo by Sarah Straub.

Ella Enchanted is a wonderful, inspiring story about a young women “gifted” with obedience as a baby by a reckless fairy. The musical is about her struggle with free will, the family that abuses her, and her friendship with the charming prince who sees her for who she truly is. Even though the play is only about an hour, Karen Zacarías and Deborah Wicks La Puma did a great job of condensing the story from the book while maintaining its integrity and core messages.

The first thing you notice as you walk into the theatre is the beautiful set that is up. It almost feels bohemian with the long drapes, the softly glowing globes, and the trims of gold. The paint job will draw you in with its many dynamics and textures. Once the play stayed, I was impressed with the way the tied back the drapes in different scenes to create different settings. Paige Hathaway, the scenic designer, clearly put a lot of thought into how to quickly transition from lots of scene settings. It was very effective. The lighting design by Sarah Tundermann was also effective. As the set changed easily to suggest different scene settings so did the lighting. The design was effective and seamless, whether it was dark, patchy light indicating light peaking through a forest canopy, or gobo patterns chosen to indicate windows. And at the end the green pinpricks all over the audience and stage were a magical contribution to the happy ending.

The next thing that really struck me was the costuming, which was designed by Robert Croghan. Every character’s costume had rich colors and textures. The choices for Mistress Manners and Lucinda stood out in particular, as well as the stepsisters’ accessories for the ball, which were neat, simple additions. In addition, I appreciated how simple cloaks or aprons were used to change actors to another character. It made good use of the short time, and was successful in communicating the variety of characters.

Deborah Wicks La Puma music directed the show in addition to composing it. I suspect it was a winning combination of her directorial skills and the talent of the cast that made the music so wonderful to listen to. The entire ensemble had a truly lovely sound, and all the voices and music blended perfectly together.

Javier Del Pilar (Char) and Malinda Kathleen (Reese). Photo by Sarah Straub.

Thanks to the choreography of Michael J. Bobbitt, who is also the Artistic Director, the musical numbers were lovely to watch, as well. His choreography made good, interesting use of the small space. The characters were moving all the time, using all the space, even coming into the aisles, which was engaging and entertaining. One of my favorite musical numbers was the finishing school sequence. I thought it was very clever how Bobbit worked in all the different classes into one seamless dance to show Ella’s improvement over time. The ogres’ song was adorable and a lot of fun. Again, the choreography was interesting and smoothly carried out by the cast. Of course, the bird song and the giant wedding were unforgettable because of all the puppetry integrated with the choreography.

Andrea Moore, the properties and puppet designer took Ella Enchanted from a musical to a spectacle with these excellent puppets. The birds were wildly colorful and the giants were impressive and were applauded the moment they stepped out. My words cannot do Moore’s creations justice so you’ll have to see them for yourself.

The ensemble was very strong. Each of them played so many characters, but each was distinct from the others so it was always clear who was peaking. Malinda Kathleen Reese strongly lead the cast as Ella with a pretty, confident voice and a ton of energy. Alison Daniels (Dame Olga), and Simone Lewis (Hattie), and Shanta Parasuraman (Olive) respectively, were an excellent trio of awful, but funny, step-family. They managed to be big, silly characters without being over-the-top and annoying. Parasuraman’s Olive was especially entertaining. She played the role of simpleton so earnestly that she was practically loveable.

Javier Del Pilar (Char) and Malinda Kathleen (Reese). Photo by Sarah Straub.

Ella Enchanted captivated me as a child. It gave me courage, as well as a love for reading. Now Adventure Theatre has brought this fantastic story to a new audience of young people. This fantastic production captures the book’s essence – sweet, magical, and full of wonderful lessons about being yourself, standing up for what is right, and following your heart.

Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, with no intermission. 

Ella Enchanted is playing through March 19, 2017, at Adventure Theatre  – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call the box offcie at , or purchase them online.

There will be a special, Ella Enchanted Medieval Festival at Adventure Theatre on February 26th.This will include medieval-themed food, dress-up, activities, and more, so bring the whole family!


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