Fairy godmothers are supposed to be helpful, right? But as a new play called “Ella Enchanted” reveals, that’s not always the case. Ella lives in the magical kingdom of Frell and has a fairy godmother named Lucinda. But instead of granting a wish, Lucinda creates a problem that makes Ella miserable.
The story starts when Ella is a baby. Lucinda gives her the gift of obedience. For the rest of Ella’s life, every command must be instantly obeyed. When Ella’s stepmother demands that she clean the house, the girl immediately does so. One mean stepsister orders Ella to pull the hair of the other. Ella tries to resist, but the spell is too powerful, and she grabs at the sister’s head.
Obedience is not a gift but a curse, Ella decides. She sets off to find incompetent Lucinda and break the spell. Along the way, she meets up with her good friend Prince Char, tricks three ogres and dances at the wedding of giants.
The play, onstage at Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo, Maryland, is adapted from a popular novel of the same title by Gail Carson Levine. Loosely based on the Cinderella story, the book and play explore the importance of saying no when you are told to do something wrong or hurtful.
It’s challenging to turn a 275-page novel into a one-hour musical with only seven actors, said Karen Zacarías, who wrote the adaptation. (The book was also made into a movie starring Anne Hathaway.)
Zacarías cut some characters and chapters “in order to focus on the heart of the story” and how Ella “finds her true voice,” she said in a recent interview. She and music director Deborah Wicks La Puma added songs that convey Ella’s feelings of confusion, loss and joy when she finally is able to resist.
Zara Oyewole of Bethesda, Maryland, enjoyed the fantastical parts of the show.
“I liked the fairy and birds the best,” said Zara, who is 5.
Lucinda, the flawed fairy, is played by Lara Zinn. She keeps everyone laughing as she makes one mistake after another. At one point, Lucinda even practices magic on herself, with funny results.
The birds are brightly colored puppets that contribute to a sense of wonder as they sing and fly onstage. The happy giants are puppets, too. They are controlled by actors hidden under large tunics.
“I think Ella is the ultimate fairy-tale feminist,” said Malinda Kathleen Reese, who plays the main character. “She doesn’t let herself sit in self-pity when something awful happens to her; she picks herself back up and fights.”
This is Reese’s first show at Adventure Theatre, but she grew up in the area and knows the theater well. She began acting in school and church shows at age 9, and she loved going to local theaters.
“Getting to work with Adventure after being in their audiences my whole life feels very full circle,” she said.
What: “Ella Enchanted.”
Where: Adventure Theatre, Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Maryland.
When: Through March 19, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; additional shows on weekdays.
How much: $19.50.
How old: Age 4 and older.
Special shows: February 18 at 2 p.m. is an American Sign Language-interpreted performance. March 4 at 2 p.m. is a sensory/autism-friendly performance. A medieval festival on Feb. 26 is $50 per ticket.
For more information: A parent can visit Adventuretheatre-mtc.org or call 301-634-2270.