World premiere musicals in our country are all too often small-scale productions by independent companies in little theatres outside the CBD; applauded by the small audiences who get to witness them, but soon forgotten without a producer willing to develop it into a full commercial production. And so a huge congratulations to producers Spencer McLaren, Craig Donnell and Dean Murphy for bringing such a high quality, Australian-made world premiere production to Melbourne’s East End Theatre District.
Without any spoilers, Midnight The Cinderella Story is a new and fresh interpretation of the Cinderella story.
The show opens with young Stella (performed on opening night by Isobel Lauber). It’s already midnight, and Stella can’t sleep, so she picks up a book and begins to read – and so the story of Cinderella, or initially just Ella, comes to life on stage.
Ella is a young woman who is kind and considerate, with bold plans to make a difference in the world. Ella is unimpressed by the rulers of her kingdom and feels they could be doing so much more in their position of power. Ella has met The Prince on several occasions, and is not in awe of his majesty.
Having lost her mother at a young age, Ella’s world is turned upside down by the loss of her father and betrayal by her stepmother.
Meanwhile The Prince is being pressured to find a wife and marry, not aware that his father, The King, is in financial trouble. The King throws a ball in order for his son to announce his engagement, which The Prince sees this as the ideal opportunity to reconnect with Ella. Ella’s stepmother is determined to keep her away from the ball, and so Ella, now known as Cinderella, needs a little help from a couple of surprise sources.
That much is pretty familiar, and to go any further into the story would result in spoilers, and part of the magic of this show is the discovery of new story.
Midnight The Cinderella Musical includes some of the expected elements of the traditional Cinderella story, but also takes some unpredictable new twists and turns that had the audience captivated through the whole journey.
Cleverly written by Dean Murphy and Pip Mushin, Midnight The Cinderella Musical is a story that feels somewhat familiar, but at the same time new and fresh. Ella wants to make the world a better place and help those less fortunate. She has good and kind heart. Ella can see the opportunities The Prince has to make the sort of changes she knows would make a difference in the world. Midnight The Cinderella Musical is a wonderful musical for the whole family. Ella serves as the ideal role model to any young person wanting to make a difference in the world.
The set (by James Browne) works well to assist with the story-telling and has a somewhat cartoonish appearance.
Costumes by Harriet Oxley are bright and colourful, and set the story in a “Once upon a time” era. Although a beautiful gown, Ella’s ballgown seems almost out of place to the rest of the costumes, but the transformation moment still elicited gasps of awe from the audience.
Lighting design (Trudy Dalgleish) works well to create mood and affect.
Much of the success of this production is the quality of the cast.
Brianna Bishop is outstanding in the role of Ella. She captivates the audience every time she walks out on the stage. Bishop has a beautiful voice, and a tenderness to her character that immediately endears her to the audience. Brianna Bishop is a stunning leading lady and hopefully we’ll see a lot more of her in the future.
Thomas McGuane exudes a natural warmth and charisma as The Prince that makes the blossoming relationship between he and Ella believable. Thomas McGuane IS Prince Charming.
Shane Jacobson is wonderful as The King and matches the vocal strength of this talented cast.
Lucy Durack is beautiful as Mrs Lillicroft and Ms Madrina. Her performance of ‘You Are The One’ is a highlight.
Verity Hunt-Ballard is brilliant as Madame Bellington. She is both charming and villainous. Hunt-Ballard masterfully balances the different personas of her character, creating a delightfully wicked villain, but with enough restraint to not be overly scary for younger audience members.
Matt Lee is delightful as Andre and Mr Abernathy, and after years of puppeteering Olaf in Frozen, it was wonderful to see him in a role that allowed him to showcase his dance skills. Lee’s expert comedic timing brings a sense of fun to his characters and the audience adored him.
Raphael Wong is superb as Ella’s Father. He brings a warmth to the character and his glorious vocals fill the theatre.
Kristie Nguy and Melanie are excellent as Ella’s stepsisters.
But the real hero of Midnight The Cinderella Musical is the musical score itself. The music by John Foreman and Anthony Costanzo is exquisite. With glorious orchestrations by Musical Director Anthony Barnhill this show is filled with a range of top-tapping numbers and soaring ballads.
Very wisely, there are certain musical interludes repeated throughout the show, which ensures those incredible songs are well and truly stuck in your head as you leave the theatre. In particular, ‘Why Can’t I’ is stunningly beautiful and will haunt you for days. The reprise of this song to close out Act One gave me goosebumps.
This is a musical that needs to be heard and I can only hope a full cast recording will be made available soon. The additional song by Kate Miller-Heidke is beautiful and fits perfectly into the show.
The opening night performance was not perfect – to be somewhat expected of a world premiere. There were a few sound balance issues at times that made the vocals a little hard to hear – but that’s easily fixed. There’s a few sections that will probably be trimmed to bring down the running time in future productions. But overall, this is an outstanding production that belongs not only in Melbourne’s East Theatre District, but on the world stage. The music elevates this to a 5 star production. I’ve already booked my tickets to return and see it again.
Midnight The Cinderella Musical is now playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District for a strictly limited season. Don’t miss this incredible, world-class Australian-made musical.
For more information https://midnightmusical.com.au/