Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's Cinderella is a hit judging by the enthusiastic response of 7-year-old Kate Murphy, one of many young people in the audience at the show's opening weekend.
She said she most "liked when [Cinderella] said she didn't go to the ball" referring to the "Lovely Night" number sung by Cinderella and her stepsisters recounting their experiences after the ball.
Summer Garden's 40th season opener of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is an unpretentious production similar to what the legendary duo created in 1957 as a live television show for then 21-year-old Julie Andrews.
Opting for innocent charm over campy or raucous 21st-century updating, Summer Garden presents a modest, magical fairy tale innocence that is well-suited to its outdoor stage and to family audiences.
The score seems fresh because it hasn't been done to death, thus enabling many of us to hear most of the tunes for the first time. One familiar number was "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" which has a romantic charm and a poetic profundity typical of Hammerstein's lyrics.
In her first directorial stint at Summer Garden, Nicole Roblyer Fickes demonstrates some magic of her own in producing a delectable mix of comedy and romance, retaining the sweet innocence of the beloved tale while infusing the show with joy and enthusiasm.
Fickes not only has a highly talented cast, but she has some terrific support in staging from Bob Rude and from the crew who created the fairy tale set that can be speedily changed, often resembling giant cutouts from the fairy tale's illustrated pages.
Orchestra conductor Marc Boensel captures the lightness of the score. The distinctive fun and grace of Vicki Smith's choreography must also be acknowledged.
Rebecca LaChance is a lovely Cinderella. She sings and dances beautifully and projects warmth and winning spunk.
LaChance's duets' "Ten Minutes Ago" and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" with her Prince (Michael Burgtorf) create their own gentle magic. Burgtorf's baritone blended perfectly, and his graceful dancing matched hers. Burgtorf's Prince also provides some comic moments as he moves assorted maidens of his kingdom around the ballroom floor, including Cinderella's awkward stepsisters, Portia and Joy.
Providing comic relief are the stepfamily threesome - Portia (Brittany Williams) and Joy (Shannon Benil) and their social-climbing, pushy mother (Beth Terranova), all haughty and demanding as they bark orders at Cinderella and annoy each other.
Benil's Joy and Williams' Portia are bratty, competitive, hilariously klutzy and clueless in projecting charm or elegance, and they play off each other well, bringing more comedy to the show in their "Stepsisters' Lament."
They form a strong, spiteful trio with Terranova's Stepmother, who is deliciously evil when badgering them and Cinderella, and delivers some great barbs and comic dance moves at the ball.
Maureen Card creates a spunky Godmother who can really sing, delivering a memorable "Fol-De-Rol" and "Impossible." On opening weekend, Card's Godmother projected an air of nonchalance when the fireworks went off on cue as she entered the room and was just as adept at handling their absence when they probably should have popped up and didn't.
Rusty Russell's King is warm and bumbling, and Brenda Garcia's Queen nicely conveys her affection for her family; the pair delivers the cozy, tender love song "Boys and Girls Like You and Me."
Ben Dillard brings an excellent voice and nice warmth to the role of the Herald.
On Sunday evening, the majority of the audience appeared to be younger than 40, and according to the estimate of volunteer usher Shannon Terranova, Beth Terranova's niece, at least 15 people - about one-quarter of the audience - were younger than 14, with everyone seeming to enjoy the show.
Cinderella runs through June 24 at 143 Compromise St., across from City Dock, Annapolis. Shows are Thursdays through Sundays at 8:30 p.m.. Reservations: 410-268-9212. Information: www.summergarden.com.