Ella Enchanted, Griffin Theatre Company. Cinderella’s tale has been twisted a hundred different ways, to add song or play with gender, race, even outcome. But William Massolia’s adaptation of Gail Carson Levine’s 1997 novel gives these famous characters what they’ve lacked in most previous incarnations: humanity and motive. Ella (Tiffany Scott) is no mere victim of circumstance: she’s a self-assured, strong young woman blessed by a well-meaning fairy at birth with the capacity for unconditional obedience. This “gift” becomes a curse at the hands of her manipulative stepfamily, driven by greed and ambition to arrange a marriage with the prince (Benjamin Summers). Like so many heroines of myth and folklore, Ella must undertake a dangerous quest, overcoming various obstacles to find love and, ultimately, herself. The familiar elements are all there–the glass slippers, the ball, the fairy godmother–but the happy ending is by no means assured.

It’s one thing to produce a children’s show that adults can tolerate without No Doz. It’s another, rare and beautiful thing to create a theatrical event that can completely engage a very young audience (with the help of brilliant visual and sound effects, sparkling costumes, and outrageously colorful characters) and equally enthrall adults with its complex story and realistic human beings, believable despite fantastic hair color and magical surroundings. The show is two and a half hours long, but you can count on a mesmerizing experience appealing to the whole family.

–Kim Wilson