Sometimes, it’s OK to say no.
“Ella Enchanted,” the new musical at the Rose Theater, delivers that message to its young audience members.
It’s a good reminder, especially in light of child abuse and bullying. But its sweeping implications — particularly when it comes to discipline — may have parents feeling a little apprehensive. Who doesn’t get frustrated with a child who constantly refuses to obey?
Well, Mom and Dad, don’t be concerned. “Ella” isn’t about teaching kids to dis their parents. It’s about helping them realize they have a voice, a will and a brain, and that they don’t have to automatically agree to every request from every person (helpful when someone is trying to lure them into harmful situations).
If you’re trying to create competent, rational and caring human beings, especially girls, this show is on your side.
The lessons it holds are dressed up in a terrific production from a seven-person cast (some play multiple parts) led by guest director Nik Whitcomb.
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The story, adapted by Karen Zacarias from a book by Gail Carson Levine, borrows elements from “Cinderella,” though it’s not all that similar to the classic fairy tale. When Ella (Aguel Lual) is born, a spell by her ditzy and misguided fairy godmother, Lucinda (Lauren Krupski), renders her unable to say no. To Lucinda, it’s a gift, but to Ella’s mom (Joey Hartshorn), it’s a curse, and it spells trouble: It makes Ella an easy target for people who want to manipulate and abuse her.
As happens in fairy tales, Mom dies and Ella’s dad, Sir Peter (LaDareon “LD” Copeland) marries Dame Olga, an unkind and overbearing woman with two daughters, Hattie (Shannon Duke) and Olive (Carina DuMarce). All three women take advantage of Ella, who eventually sets out to find Lucinda so she can take back her “gift.” Along the way, she meets Prince Charmont (Marcel Daly), and they become fast friends.
Dancing and fun musical numbers by Deborah Wicks La Puma accompany the action as Ella meets ogres and forest creatures in a beautiful land created by set designer Kathy Voecks. A scene featuring dancing giants, created with shadow and lighting by Craig S. Moxon, is especially impressive. (That last detail should spark your curiosity.) Costumes by Zach Kloppenborg mix aspects of traditional fairy tale garb with modern touches.
Lual has a wonderful voice and portrays Ella with plenty of expressive girl power as she gets increasingly frustrated that the curse is denying her the right to make her own decisions (and mistakes). She does everyone’s bidding, but that doesn’t mean she has to like it. Daly, who was the prince in “The Little Mermaid” at the Rose a few seasons ago, is once again in great voice as the hero in “Ella.” And Krupski is frenzied, bemused and earnest as the misguided Lucinda. She’s frustrating yet likable.
At 75 minutes, the show is ideal for kids, with just the right action to keep them interested. It’s squarely aimed at those in grade school through early middle school. Older kids and adults might find their minds wandering at times. (Or your experience may differ, depending on your appetite for fairy tales.)
Another play by Zacarias, “Native Gardens,” will be produced at the Omaha Community Playhouse early next year. I already was looking forward to it because of the subject matter (cultures clash as neighbors collaborate on a community garden). Now that I’ve seen “Ella Enchanted,” I’m anticipating it even more.