Now in its 43rd year, this Black Ensemble Theater classic, written and directed by founder and CEO Jackie Taylor, is an enchanting production with BET legends and talented newcomers at the helm. From a young volunteer usher excitedly welcoming me to “the Kingdom of Other” on the afternoon I attended to the boisterous and ever-capable backing band atop the stage, the show stands on a foundation of joy and positivity that carries throughout the familiar story.
Taylor’s African American adaptation of the well-worn tale puts Cinderella (Jayla Williams-Craig) in the projects, with a Stepmamma (Rhonda Preston) who works at the post office and a Fairy Godmamma (Robin DaSilva) from Jamaica. Our introduction to the reticent Prince (Blake Hawthorne) is a welcome break from stereotypical fairy-tale masculinity, though a mention of a friendship with the duke’s gay son could either be cut or explored in greater detail.
Williams-Craig and Preston, both electric as songstress Nancy Wilson at different stages of life in BET’s Style & Grace last spring, are now well-matched foils, locking horns and trading verbal jabs as stepdaughter and villainous stepmother. After just a couple years on the Chicago theater scene, Williams-Craig has established herself as a charismatic vocal talent, and she brings fierce strength, humor, and touching vulnerability to the title role. While the show maintains Cinderella‘s main lesson of not judging a book by its cover, it also explores socioeconomic inequality, colorism, and the challenges of finding self-confidence. v