Ella Enchanted

Allyson EllaThe story of Cinderella is typically one of the first stories told to children when they’re very young. European versions can date back to The Brothers Grimm and beyond, and many variants have been created up to our present day. One of the newest of these is entitled Ella Enchanted, and the Des Moines Playhouse is presenting this modern musical take on the classic story beginning Friday, April 26.


Classic to Modern

As we know, the traditional story of Cinderella is one of a poor young woman, stuck with a rotten stepmother and two ugly stepsisters. She longs to attend the Royal Ball, and through the magic of her Fairy Godmother, meets her love Prince Charming, but has to leave by midnight when the magic wears off. Her happy ending comes when the Prince, desperate to find her once again, shows up with her forgotten glass slipper, and the happily ever after commences.

Ella and CharIn the updated Ella Enchanted, we discover that the baby Ella has been given the “gift” of obedience, meaning that she cannot disobey a direct order. She meets Prince Charmont (known as Char), but is soon sent off to finishing school with two other girls who discover her “gift” and use it to take advantage of her. These girls, Hattie and Olive, end up becoming stepsisters to Ella, and making her life even worse.

Through various adventures, many of the traditional story beats of the original Cinderella story take place, but in unexpected ways. There is a Royal Ball, magic that ends at midnight, and a search for Ella by Char, showing that happily ever afters don’t always happen the way you think they will.


Cindy to Ella

Bfaab73d 867b 452e b3bd 1126b9e715a1Allyson Martens plays the lead in the DM Playhouse production, and as Ella she is well aware of the differences from the original fairy tale and the newer Ella Enchanted version. Immediately prior to starting work on the version opening this Friday, she had been cast as Cinderella for CAP-Altoona’s recent Lunch n’ Laughs production of the tale.

“The CAP performance was a much more traditional take on the classic story of Cinderella, where Ella Enchanted is a new take on an old fairytale. Instead of focusing on ‘the slipper’ we get to focus on Ella and her journey to free herself. I love that Ella finds the strength within herself and doesn’t have to rely on anyone else to bring her happiness and purpose. It’s a really satisfying journey to go on every night.”

Ella bookMartens didn’t have to do much research into the new role, considering she had grown up reading the book, and seeing the movie version (which is actually quite different from the musical play). It’s just one more variation on the classic themes of the story, but updating them for more modern times and social ideas.

“I read the book in elementary school and have of course seen the movie, but the musical definitely has different beats then both the previous book and movie. Char and Ella really do start out by being friends and explore new adventures together before they realize they are in love. This is one of my favorite parts of the story because in life, that’s often how love really begins!  Ella gets to share with Char her love for languages and we really take the time to show their bond throughout the course of the show.”


Piggie to Princess

As noted with her CAP-Altoona theatre performance, Martens is no stranger to children’s shows. But this wasn’t always the case. Her first time being involved with a show for younger audiences was the DM Playhouse production of Elephant and Piggie: Let’s Put on a Play! about a year and a half ago. And it started a passion she hopes will always be a part of her life.

Piggie Play“I was HOOKED after that. Experiencing the laughter, discovery, and happiness children have at the theatre is the most joyful feeling I have ever known. I think it is so extremely important that children are exposed to theatre and storytelling to teach them empathy, understanding, and give them the chance to wonder. I was definitely a theatrical kid but didn’t actually perform in my first show until high school. I do love to do fun shows like Mamma Mia for just my own enjoyment where I can sing music I love but doing children’s theatre always feel like being a part of something bigger than myself and I love that.”

We live in an ever-changing world, and the ideas of gender roles and expectations are changing, and the stories we tell change with them. In Ella Enchanted, we meet a smart, strong youth who learns how to navigate her life without someone else doing it for her. But she also learns that it’s good to have friends around, and people to love and value. Those are the kinds of messages Martens wants to be able to present to the younger audience, and hopes they learn as much from the show (and from Ella herself) as she has.

Ffb0bb3e a610 4673 918a da6830eb68d8“I am so honored that the team chose me to portray Ella, as she is such a strong female character. Ella has taught me in so many ways how to be a stronger person and I find myself in my day to day saying “okay, I know what Allyson would do, but what would Ella do?” I can’t wait to bring this show to audiences (and I truly believe everyone of all ages will love it) and tell this story.”

The Des Moines Playhouse production of the musical Ella Enchanted opens Friday, April 26 at the Kate Goldman Children’s Theatre. Performances are on Friday nights at 7pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm and 4pm. Ella Enchanted is presented “In the Round”, so ticket numbers/locations will be slightly different for this show, but they are still available in person from the Playhouse box office, by calling 515-277-6261, or from the DM Playhouse website

Photos by Steve Gibbons, courtesy of the Des Moines Playhouse.


Des Moines Playhouse Allyson Martens