Currently onstage at Paper Mill Playhouse for the holidays is a production of the beloved musical, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. This enchanting musical is a retelling of the fairy tale Cinderella that many of us are familiar with, but with new twists and turns as well as some new characters. The production has an incredible score by Richards Rodger and Oscar Hammerstein II, and a new book by Douglas Carter Beane. I am sure this will be a charming musical full of theatre magic that is simply a perfect fit for the holidays.
I had an opportunity to speak with Ashley Blanchet who is playing the role of Ella in Paper Mill’s production. She spoke with me about the role of Ella and her interpretation of the much-loved character, her favorite moment in the show and why she thinks this is the perfect musical for families to come see during the holiday season.
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me about the production of Cinderella at Paper Mill Playhouse? What makes this production unique?
Ashley Blanchet: When I started working on the production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella I first looked at the show from my own personal perspective. I began by examining her self-worth and discovered her resiliency. The musical is based on the classic fairy tale that everyone is familiar with. However this production is a modern retelling about a feminist girl. One of the differences I like is that Cinderella and the Prince get a chance to know each other and develop a plan together to make the kingdom a better place. Ella encourages the Prince to be a better leader and he reminds her that she has the strength to follow her own dreams. I find the character of Ella to be resilient and optimistic.
Kelli: You are playing the iconic role of Ella based on the fairy tale character, Cinderella. How do you approach a role like this that is so well known? How do you make it your own?
Ashley: I personally think of myself as edgy, so at first I found it challenging to play the role of Ella because she is constantly full of optimism. Our director of Cinderella, Mark Hoebee, encouraged me to find the optimism within this character. For example, I tried to find Ella’s hopefulness and think that yes, eventually her stepmother would let her attend the ball. I now find joy that I am able to live as the character, Ella, for a little bit. She is powerful and strong. It is compelling to see her rise up and overcome the obstacles that get in her way.
Kelli: Could you describe your version of the character Ella?
Ashley: She is powerful and resilient! She embodies a classic American story of someone who comes from a challenging background and through perseverance she succeeds and ends up believing in herself. I also think of the fairy godmother in the story as a metaphor. She symbolizes that as long as Ella stays resilient and perseveres anything is possible.
Kelli: Do you have a favorite moment in the show that you look forward to each night?
Ashely: First of all, this show and the music by Rodgers and Hammerstein are beautiful. I feel joy after joy during each musical number. If I had to pick one favorite scene it would be the ball scene. I have a deep affection for this particular princess. The costume by William Ivey Long and the choreography by Joann Hunter work together to produce a magical scene. Also the way Joann Hunter choreographed this scene creates a dance sequence full of suspense and romance. Seeing everything come together in this number infuses me with joy.
Kelli: Is there a message in the show that you hope members of the audience will take away from the show?
Ashley: Since we are doing Cinderella over the holidays I hope that members of the audience leave the theatre with a sense of magic and holiday merriment. This show does exactly what a holiday show should do and that is leave a lasting feeling of positivity and holiday joy. This show has a message about perseverance and a person’s ability to turn a bad situation into a positive one.
Kelli: Since this show will have a huge impact on the audience, especially the younger audience members, could you tell me what the first show you saw onstage was that had an impact on you?
Ashley: The first show I saw on Broadway was Titanic, which has a beautiful score by Maury Yeston. However, the show that really inspired me was Annie Get Your Gun with Bernadette Peters. It was in that moment that I realized I wanted to part of the theatre world.
One of the best parts of my experience playing this role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is knowing that there have been younger people of color in the audience and I am extremely grateful I have the opportunity to represent people of color in playing the role of Ella. When I was younger I saw Brandy play the role of Cinderella and Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, and watching their performances had an impact on me. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be playing the role of Ella.
Kelli: Why in your opinion is live theatre important?
Ashley: Theatre is my whole life. I had a teacher who said to me that music is the closest thing we have to a higher place; without music people would be zombies. For me, live theatre is a direct communication to people’s lives and hearts. Watching something live onstage gives people hope. It helps people communicate with each other and makes people not feel alone.
Kelli: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Ashley: I hope people come out to see the show because it is a beautiful production. I am so excited to be part of this show.
Ashley Blanchet can be seen in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Paper Mill Playhouse. The show is on Paper Mill’s stage through December 29, 2019. For more information and tickets please visit their website at papermill.org or call the box office at (973)376-4343.
Photos courtesy of Paper Mill Playhouse
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for Theatre Sensation. She has maintained a love of the performing arts since a very early age and she is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.