“Who needs love? Love’s another word for being bored in pairs,” sings Danielle de Barbarac, played by Margo Seibert, early in “Ever After.”
Danielle is the Cinderella figure in this new musical, which is adapted from the 1998 Drew Barrymore/Anjelica Huston movie and set in 16th century France (as was the movie). She’s a feisty variation on the character, bold and saracastic, physically daring, more interested in books than dresses. She’s not exactly waiting, breathlessly, for her Prince Charming to arrive. “A knight in shining armor is just one more thing to dust,” she snarls.
She’s also, sadly, the only interesting character in “Ever After,” which is currently having its world premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn.
Her stepmother, Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent (played by Christine Ebersole, returning to the Playhouse for the first time in 16 years), is more bitchy than evil. “Where’s the rest of it?” she whines when being brought to the spacious Barbarac house for the first time by Danielle’s beloved father.
Prince Henry (James Snyder) is as bland as a tortured heir to the French throne can be, and even Leonardo da Vinci (Tony Sheldon), who figures in some crucial plot twists (including one that even the most trusting child would find unbelievable), is a smug know-it-all.
On the more positive side, Danielle’s spoiled stepsister Marguerite (Mara Davi) is suitably outlandish, and Seán Martin Hingston shows off some dazzling, slithery dance moves as the gypsy thief Flanek. The period costumes are impressive, and the scenery appropriately grand. Lyricist Marcy Heisler and composer Zina Goldrich have come up with some witty songs, including “Who Needs Love,” “My Cousin’s Cousin” (in which Danielle cleverly deceives the prince) and “Is There Anything Leonardo Can’t Do?”
But the love songs aren’t the least bit memorable. Heisler and Goldrich are definitely better with the lighter stuff, and Heisler’s book, furthermore, has a sitcom-like breeziness. Danielle and Prince Henry have to quarrel, cutely, before they fall in love, even though Danielle has enough obstacles to deal with already. And when the Prince says something that surprises his father, King Francis (Charles Shaughnessy) says with mock exasperation, “Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my son!”
Overall, this “Ever After,” despite its handsome look and its occasional good moments, is a pretty lightweight affair.
“Ever After” is at the Millburn theater through June 21. For information, visit papermill.org.
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