By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The world’s favorite fairy tale about a young orphan’s dream to live a life without her abusive stepmother (Suzanne Bouchard) and obnoxious stepsisters Joy (Nick Garrison) and Grace (Sarah Rudinoff) makes its appearance this holiday season in downtown Seattle.
Filipino American actress and Carbonell Award winner Jennifer Paz stars in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” at the 5th Avenue Theatre. Executive Producer David Armstrong held a press opening of the two-hour musical on Dec. 1.
It will continue at the sandstone-faced theater — constructed in 1925 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places — through Dec. 31.
Paz, a former Renton resident who once attended the University of Washington, is best known for playing Kim in the first national tour of “Miss Saigon,” a role she recently reprised at Maine’s Ogunquit Playhouse.
In “Cinderella,” she dons a red-striped dress with patches to show the terrible turn her life has taken after the deaths of her mother and father. A servant to three new oddball family members, she lives merely to carry their packages and sweep the floor and any other order directed towards her.
Costume designer Renato Balestra contributed several imaginative creations filled with bright colors, some with just the right amount of glitter. Paz wears a beautiful gold gown complete with large matching earrings and a large necklace. Her white wedding gown is elegant and flowing, qualities – along with a bright spotlight – that allowed Paz’s natural beauty to shine.
Grace’s (Sarah Rudinoff) large beach ball-sized skirts complement her loud, boisterous words and actions.
Paz’s delicate, vibrato-filled soprano voice is accompanied by well-executed acting skills, particularly when she sings “In My Own Little Corner” in Act 1. Her duets with Prince Christopher (Brandon O’Neill) are convincing as the two main characters grow closer in their newly found romance.
Her high and effortless leaps in the air during the Cinderella Waltz in Act 2 prove that she also has the skills of a talented dancer.
Paz has clearly achieved theater-star status in her nearly 20-year career, a remarkable feat considering that she had no vocal training and no stage experience when she attended an open-call audition for “Miss Saigon” at age 19, In a 1995 article in the Los Angeles Times, she said, “It was kind of an accident, actually. I drove up there (to Vancouver) to audition, and they cast me on the spot.”
Tom Briggs’ stage adaptation of this well-known story is spectacular. For theatergoers looking for pure escapist family entertainment, “Cinderella” is certainly one musical to consider. Familiar plot points in “Cinderella” move at a brisk pace with an attention-grabbing steady tempo and rhythm.
Its special effects will amaze both younger and older audience members. Downward cascading white fireworks fill the entire stage with a spectacular bright light just before the appearance of Cinderella’s magical carriage.
Several gasps of “Whoa, how did she do that?” were uttered by audience members, as the Godmother (Kendra Kassebaum) worked her magical powers to help Cinderella get ready for her life-changing midnight ball. In Act 1, “The Prince is Giving a Ball” is one of many memorable songs with an up-tempo beat and high energy.
This musical was inspirational as well as entertaining. The Godmother, Cinderella, and the ensemble sang “It’s Possible” in Act 1 to make the message clear that all young girls can see their wishes come true when they take positive and decisive steps — what some may call “a plan of action.”
Lionel (Greg McCormick Allen), the royal steward and Prince Christopher’s assistant, provides the musical’s only tap dance routine.
A standing ovation from the audience during the final song, “There’s Music in You,” was well earned. This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is one to be enjoyed and remembered by several generations. (end)
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” will be at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle, from Nov. 25 to Dec. 31. For more information, visit www.5thavenue.org. For more information about Jennifer Paz, visit www.jennifer-paz.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.