Modern magic

‘Cinderella’ offers a new spin on a family favorite at the Arvada Center

Running at the Arvada Center through Dec. 31, Kenny Moten’s contemporary update of Cinderella was inspired by the worlds of The Hunger Games and Wednesday. Credit: McLeod9 Creative

Fairy tales have gotten a bad rap for a while now.  With a reputation for dated stereotypes and oversimplified moral teachings, these childhood folktales are often seen as relics of the past. Director Kenny Moten wants to change that with his updated take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities.

“Fairy tales are one of the last storytelling things that we have passed down,” Moten says. “For hundreds of years, when you say, ‘Cinderella,’ everyone has a version of the character that comes to mind. And [fairy tales] teach moral lessons to children, which makes them important. The use of modern technology in our production levels the playing field for young people by giving them ownership over the story and reinforcing the musical’s message of generosity and kindness.”

Based on the 2013 Tony Award-winning adaptation by Douglas Carter Beane, this rendition of Cinderella weaves together the familiar elements of the classic story with a contemporary flair. The result is a fresh take on the rags-to-riches story about a young woman who, despite being forced into servitude by her wicked stepmother, discovers her self-worth and finds a path to happiness with the help of some wonderful friends and a touch of magic.

The fairytale kingdom gets a modern makeover in the world created by the Arvada Center’s production team. Knights zoom around on hoverboards, and townsfolk message each other using cell phones. It’s a unique blend of past and present Moten says was inspired by the worlds of The Hunger Games and Wednesday

“I did not look at other versions of Cinderella; I looked at things that are popular in the current zeitgeist to make it feel like a fairy tale for young audiences now,” Moten says. “Wednesday feels brand new yet vintage and The Hunger Games has that same vibe, where it feels futuristic yet old; this musical has taken on a similar feel.” 

Unlike Moten’s first collaboration with the Arvada Center last holiday season for Beauty and the Beast,  where he joined the production later in the process, he was involved from the very beginning of the Cinderella journey. After observing more young people turning out for his previous project at the venue, Moten decided to tailor 2023’s holiday show to that demographic. 

“Normally, we center boomers in the theater because they are the donors, but I firmly believe that if you center 5- to 15-year-olds, everybody else lines up,” Moten says. “When you see a child light up, you are in.” 

Aléna Watters as Marie and Hillary Fisher as Ella in ‘Cinderella.’ Credit: McLeod9 Creative

‘I have never seen this before’

By infusing the classic fairytale with modern touches like Chanel bags, Hermès boxes and scenic elements like fiber optics and LEDs designed by Brian Mallgrave, Moten seeks to breathe new life into Cinderella in more ways than one. To assemble his cast of nearly 30 talented actors, Moten sought performers who could bring modernity and depth to their characters while maintaining the show’s comedic aspects — including Hillary Fisher as Ella, Megan Van De Hey as Madam, Ethan Walker as Topher, and Aléna Watters as Marie. 

“I was looking for people who could feel grounded while also being funny,” Moten says. “Cinderella is still a musical comedy, but I wasn’t interested in them being absolute cartoon characters. I was looking for a performer who felt modern and new for Ella, and Hillary is all of that and more. When you walk into our Cinderella, you’re going to think, ‘Wow, I have never seen this before,’ which is a cool thing to say about Cinderella.” 

However, it’s not just the actors who play a pivotal role in the production’s success; the musical score is also a big part of the magic. Choreographer Jessica Hindsley and musical director Jordan Ortman worked closely together to update the play’s classic waltz score while attempting to honor Rodgers and Hammerstein’s vision.  

“Jess is one of the best choreographers in town for storytelling, and we like to challenge ourselves, but sometimes I think we try to push too hard,” Moten admits. “One thing we discovered is that sometimes simplicity is just as beautiful as trying to do a million complicated things, so we settled on a classic waltz but with more modern elements. Jordan has done an excellent job of re-orchestrating the score for the smaller group and adding some contemporary percussion touches. He has stayed very true to that big, musical theater sound, which is important because we are still making Cinderella, but we’re just setting it in our world.”

But to bring such a production to life, the team has 12 days to block the show and two weeks of technical rehearsals. After a whirlwind year of theater in Colorado — this will be Moten’s eighth show in 2023, and he still has Aurora Fox‘s Motones & Jerseys: Holiday Hi-Fi, which opens on Dec. 8 — the director is just happy to be back in Arvada for the holidays.

“There’s never a place I feel more supported than the Arvada Center,” Moten says. “Everyone’s game to create and try new things, which is critical for the industry.All theaters right now need to ask themselves how they are nurturing new audiences.” 

ON STAGE: Cinderella. Nov. 24–Dec. 31, Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. $28-$79