Paramount's 'Cinderella' as enchanting as ever

“Cinderella” - ★ ★ ★ ½

At a time when holiday shows dominate area stages, Paramount Theatre serves up a fairy tale: Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's ever-popular “Cinderella.” As counterprogramming efforts go, this one is on the money.

Created for television in 1957, the original broadcast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical confection starred Julie Andrews and reportedly attracted 100 million viewers. While Paramount's production won't have that kind of reach, this enchanting production - which stars the winsome Mikayla Renfrow in the title role - will surely draw crowds.

Paramount Theatre's "Cinderella" co-stars Sarah Bockel, center, as Cinderella's greedy stepmother. Playing her quarrelsome daughters are Tiffany T. Taylor, left, as Joy and Jacquelyne Jones as Grace. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

That's to be expected. A 1965 TV revival starring Lesley Ann Warren was reportedly CBS' highest-rated, non-sport special for more than 40 years. The 1997 TV production (with Brandy in the title role and Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother) attracted 60 million viewers. The show's multiple stage adaptations included a 2013 revival - with a book written by Douglas Carter Beane - that re-imagined the titular character as a modern young woman with a social conscience. It ran nearly two years on Broadway.

Mikayla Renfrow makes her Paramount Theatre debut as the titular character in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella." Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Paramount's version - known as the “enchanted edition” - is adapted by Tom Briggs from Robert L. Freedman's 1997 teleplay and includes several Rodgers' songs not in the original broadcast. “Cinderella” will never be mistaken for a feminist musical manifesto. Not with a stepmother (the deliciously villainous Sarah Bockel) determined to snag wealthy husbands for her daughters (Jacquelyne Jones and Tiffany T. Taylor providing spot-on comic relief as the squabbling siblings). Not with a king and queen who insist their princely son find a wife. And not with the women of the kingdom who line up to try on a glass slipper in the hope of becoming a Mrs. But that's to be expected from a 1957 production of a 17th-century tale.

Cinderella's Fairy Godmother (Jerica Exum) makes a surprise appearance before the young woman (Mikayla Renfrow) in Paramount Theatre's "Cinderella," directed by Brenda Didier. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

Still, this tale commends kindness, compassion and forgiveness, without which there can be no happy endings. So yes, there is a place for “Cinderella,” for Hammerstein's frothy lyrics and Rodger's gossamer melodies beautifully played by conductor Kory Danielson's 14-member orchestra.

Director Brenda Didier balances sentiment and wit in this graceful production, which unfolds on Angela Weber Miller's gorgeous set framed by vines and delicately illuminated by lighting designer Victoria Bain. It all feels wonderfully whimsical, from the cheery town square, to the forest where the spectacular transformation from pumpkin and mice to coach and footmen occurs, to the elegant ballroom filled with guests stunningly costumed by Theresa Ham in shades ranging from deep purple to pale lavender.

Brenda Didier and Tiffany Krause co-choreographed Paramount Theatre's revival of the television musical "Cinderella," starring Mikayla Renfrow as Cinderella and Markcus Blair as Prince Christopher. Courtesy of Liz Lauren

The balletic choreography from Didier and Tiffany Krause adds to the airy appeal of the production, which owes much to its likable stars, Chicago-area newcomers Renfrow and Markcus Blair.

Renfrow is ideal as the scullery maid who captures the heart of Blair's Christopher, who is every bit a charming prince. Together they provide a fairy tale's essential ingredient: magic.

Location: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666,

Showtimes: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday; 7 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Jan. 9. Also 7 p.m. Nov. 23; 3 p.m. Nov. 26; 1:30 p.m. Dec. 30 and 3 p.m. Dec. 31. No shows Nov. 25 and Dec. 23-25 and no evening show Dec. 31

Running time: 2 hours, five minutes with intermission

Tickets: $38-$79

Parking: Limited street parking, paid lots nearby

Rating: For all ages

COVID-19 precautions: Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, identification and masks required

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