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Review: Midnight The Cinderella Musical at The Comedy Theatre

Review by Wendy Samantha

There’s not many moments that you want to carry with you for a lifetime, but tonight would definitely be one to pop into your pocket. The cool winter air is sharp and crisp as you walk through Melbourne, but there’s a special energy this evening. As the glowing full moon lights one particular stage, the buzz across the audience is thrilling and the energy and excitement awakens the spirit. Stepping into The Melbourne Comedy Theatre to premiere Midnight The Cinderella Musical is a majestic moment. As proud Australians gather, they’ve flocked in all cheery, bringing high spirits and glee to be a part of this very special event. The well known bedtime story awaits us and what a polished production of entertainment this is.

A tremendous round of applause starts us off on our journey as the opening announcements make way. We are then presented with the start of our tale, as the young narrator Stella wide awake at night flips open the pages of her storybook. With all smiles and wonderful clarity, this bright and clear introduction is given tonight by the incredibly talented Isobel Lauber whose role is to tell us all about the tale of poor Cinderella, her deceitfully wicked stepmother, plotting step sisters, a charming prince who can’t charm them all, and an absolutely fabulous fairy godmother. Stella however does like to add her own flavours to the mix and so here we are set with a familiar fairytale sprinkled with touches of modern meaning and matter.

A wonderfully choreographed shadow scene takes place to continue our opening and unlike the original story, we see far less sorrow and grief and focus on the light that one can take out of any turn of events. We are then presented with “Once Upon A Time” which includes the full company and brings us an incredibly strong opening number. Lyrics ringing out with “a world where everyone is proud and free” announce one of the themes of the show and with a mix of all persons, ages, size and stature in this multicultural cast it makes for a spectacular start.

Brianna Bishop plays Ella (Cinderella) who is radiant, happily confident and shows strength and positivity. Her drive is to do better for her town and the people around her, and she yearns for the ability to make things just. She’s the hero that today’s youth can look up to, being happy in herself and fighting against the social status that “she’s just a girl”. Believing in who you are and living the life that you choose for yourself is another message streaming out on this platform, and it’s such an important one to note.

When we meet Raphael Wong as Ella’s father, parents in the audience automatically relate to his reliable, sincere character as he shows such care, love and pride for his daughter. “All I know is I want you to be happy” he warmly smiles at Ella before journeying off. In contrast, Ella’s new stepmother Verity Hunt-Ballard who plays Madame Bellington “is a horrible cow!”. Able to portray both seemingly good and cunningly evil, Hunt-Ballard’s character is two faced and full of a lust for wealth and greed for status. She is joined by her despicable daughters Kristie Nguy and Melanie Bird who both bounce off each other with high energy, fabulous facial expressions and such fun in Rosalie and Tiffany Bellington who love the idea of “redistribution of wealth” as long as it is redistributed towards them!

A fabulous touch to this story is the journey that Thomas McGuane as the Prince is tumbling his way through, not really wanting the life that is being handed to him on a silver platter. McGuane has a fabulous hair flick and a handsome presence but finds himself under the control of his father - the King, played by Shane Jacobson. Unfortunately the King has not made great decisions in the past and so a marriage to set things straight is placed upon the prince who does not know if he wants to take up any royal responsibility. This is his struggle until he meets Ella who despite thinking he is a children’s entertainer due to the shine in his hair and the incredibly golden jacket, soon learns who he is and tries to steer him in the right direction.

The prince’s best friend Andre, is played by Matt Lee, who funnily enough also plays Ella’s stuffed animal friend the “half naked teddy bear” that comes to life. Yes, there is an adorable puppet that features in Midnight The Cinderella Musical, and it’s up high and down low and highly visible to all members in the audience! He’s a little bit Olaf if you think of Frozen, and he’s gorgeous. Both characters Lee portrays though, are fabulous with comedic timing and also assure that the two leads look carefully at themselves and bring about realisations critical to both them and the plot.

Dean Murphy and Pip Mushin have done a brilliant job of directing and writing a memorable story that is punchy and full of bite in the script. Most of the language has a modern day fling, and there’s great jokes for both the adults and the kids to enjoy. It’s cheeky, funny and clever, and one of the only shows I’ve seen that allows the ensemble to all display character and a voice. This means there’s a differentiation of presence in all on stage and I believe it’s one of the things that makes this production completely unique. Choreographer Kelly Aykers has added to this, where each movement is perfect for the individual roles. Her routines are tight with entertaining movement that is crisp, fresh and assure there is never a dull moment. The amazingly colourful costumes, wigs, hair and makeup also add to the magnificence of this production.

The story itself takes place on a set of wonderfully well thought out mismatched shapes that could fall out of any great picture book. There are the traditional town storefronts, a magnificent magical tree, fairytale hills, curly whirly bushes and ornate wall hangings depending on the scene. Ella’s house is simple but highly effective and the use of the two levels allows for much smooth movement and development. Imaginative lighting brings the set to life, with shadows and darkness, highlights, soft touches, perfectly timed effects, and such a fabulous array of colors that even allow green evil eyes when the house hits the right spot and stepmother has her time!

Of course what you go out singing to is the music, and what a powerful team in John Foreman, Anthony Costanzo and Kate Miller-Heidke. Together they have created unforgettable tunes and meaningful lyrics that will be remembered forever. They have given voice to today’s society who will play these as anthems for the individual who strives to do better, the team that needs to believe they can, the family who reminisce, the one who craves inspiration.

It was an absolute privilege to be at the premiere of Midnight The Cinderella Musical. The show is definitely a must see for all Melbournians and every family on school holidays. Whilst there are so many magical moments I will make special mention to the phenomenal vocals of Brianna Bishop when Ella sings with such encouragement “Why Can’t I?”. It’s one I think will definitely hit the charts and that my daughter can’t wait to find on Spotify. Another stand out that was so enjoyable was with Shane Jacobson in “Being the King” where he, Thomas McGuane, Matt Lee and the male ensemble were spot on with timing and hilarity “It’s rather fun to be the king…and everyone is your harmony.”

Lucy Durack is simply stunning as Ella’s fairy godmother, and whilst also providing a magical cactus her songs are all superb and beyond first class. The moment where she stands on the spotlit platform, singing as the couple gracefully intertwine in dance is something even today’s royalty could only dream of.

Other brilliant bits included “You Only Live Once” which was a fabulous group number that speaks of not giving up, and once you’ve seen “Stuffed!” you’ll never forget it - hats off to the team for the outstanding tap dancing! During “Without You” it was touching to see many parents turn to hold their children, or the little ones snuggle up next to their grown up. “I want to make you proud of who I am, without you.” was sentimental to all.

Midnight The Cinderella Musical is one for the families, the mums and dads to hug their children, the musical theatre lovers, the romantics, those who love fairytales, those who love a good laugh, those who enjoy theatre. It’s a story of identity, finding your way, making your own journey.

Midnight The Cinderella Musical should echo out across Melbourne in a celebration of Australian talent, and the strongest of voices calling out to be proud of who you are.

Image Supplied


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