The Alliance Theatre unveiled its spiffy new $32 million renovation Saturday night with a big-ticket remake of “Cinderella.” This left the audience with the double good fortune of seeing two remarkable achievements bundled into one.
Up on the stage, Alliance artistic director Susan V. Booth revealed Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich’s “Ever After,” a smart-girl telling of the time-swept fairy tale.
Meanwhile, out in the theater, patrons found themselves swaddled by a shapely and sinuous newcomer that threatened to upstage the luminous, 28-member cast. That would be the billowing new interior design scheme of delicately bent oak wood, inspired by the wavy creations of Brooklyn furniture artist Matthias Pliessnig and executed by Trahan Architects out of New Orleans.
It was a win-win double whammy of historic proportions, though I think it’s safe to predict that audiences will enjoy the Alliance’s splendid new digs long after “Ever After” has faded from view.
Based on the 1998 film starring Drew Barrymore as Cinderella-inspired Danielle (played here by Broadway’s original Little Mermaid Sierra Boggess), “Ever After” is a strange and somewhat improbable hybrid of old and new.
Danielle proves herself to be something of a fearless feminist who will make her prince (Tim Rogan) — and her odious stepfamily — bend to her will. She won’t be transported to the ball in a pumpkin-carriage nor aided by a fairy godmother. Here, the flights of fancy are left to no less than Leonardo da Vinci (David Garrison), who you may recall was an inventor of machines with wings as well as a genius painter.
No doubt about it, Heisler and Goldrich deliver a finely wrought musical landscape that is beautifully realized by this company, which includes Atlanta actors Chris Kayser (as King Francis) and Terry Burrell (as his consort, Queen Marie), plus Jeff McCarthy (as the lecherous old Pierre Malette) and the fabulous Rachel York (as Danielle’s arch stepmother, Rodmilla).
Boggess is a lustrous and mesmerizing talent, well-nigh perfect as Danielle. Rogan’s Prince Henry is also quite good, as a character who insists on eschewing custom (and a so-called “Spanish poodle” of a princess) to marry a commoner.
On the writing side, Heisler’s book embellishes the plot with some lovely side material involving loyal servants; an angelic father (Corey James Wright), who introduced Danielle to literature when she was young; and a quirky, pastry-loving stepsister (Rachel Flynn), who refuses to kowtow to her entitled mother and social-climbing sister (Jenny Ashman).
And yet the addition of so many subplots means that the story can drag on.
Setting the play in the early 1500s and dressing the players in Tudor garb that brings to mind Rodgers and Hammerstein TV treatments of yesteryear can make the story feel creaky and tired. What happened to Meghan Markle? And hauling around all those heavy wigs and costumes can slow down the movement, though choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter gets to incorporate the over-the-top fashions to comic effect. (The Disney-esque sets are by Anna Louizos, the plushly upholstered costumes by Linda Cho.)
In many ways, this family-friendly production may remind you of “Tuck Everlasting” (whose 2015 Alliance world premiere was followed by a brief Broadway run) and Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” (which Booth directed in 2011).
All minor caveats aside, “Ever After” is a wildly impressive way to roll out a theater that has been fully transformed and revitalized in Booth’s 18-year tenure, during which time the Alliance won a Regional Tony Award and sent six shows to Broadway.
Will “Ever After” live on in the annals of American musical theater? I seriously doubt it. The new Alliance theater, on the other hand, will likely serve us for a long time to come. It’s a dazzling addition to the Woodruff Arts Center, a birthday present worthy of the Alliance’s 50th anniversary, and an opulent home for its world-class theater.
Through Feb. 17. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. (Note: No performances Feb. 3.) $25-$85. Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-5000, alliancetheatre.org.
Bottom line: Alliance makeover has fairy-tale ending.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.