Millburn, NJ — Of course there were wide-eyed little girls in pigtails and fancy dresses in the audience, but people of all ages filled the theater to capacity as Paper Mill Playhouse’s Cinderella had its opening night, Nov. 24.

The classic Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II musical, first produced for television in 1957 and updated for Broadway in 2013, is directed by Mark S. Hoebee, who also directed Paper Mill’s Beauty and the Beast. Choreography is by JoAnn M. Hunter, who also choreographed Broadway’s School of Rock, and the music direction is by Michael Borth, who worked with Hoebee on Beauty and the Beast.

The principal actors are very excited to be a part of the production. Ashley Blanchet, who has been seen on Broadway in Frozen and at the Paper Mill in Ever After, plays Ella. “It’s been a dream come true that I never knew I had,” she said at the cast party after the show. “Honestly, I grew up being kind of an edgy girl,” she noted, “not planning my wedding or anything like that. But oh man, when I get to wear those ball gowns!” She clapped her hands together and the excitement was clear in her smile.

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There’s a bit of on-stage magic when Cinderella transforms from household help into ball-ready potential princess which we won’t give away. Athough it was executed well during opening night, Blanchet said they are still working to perfect it. The crew has worked very hard to get it exactly right, she said.

Billy Harrigan Tighe plays Prince Topher. It is his first time acting at Paper Mill. “It was really amazing,” he said. He’s currently living in Union City, and said “I just feel so blessed to be here... It’s amazing to be part of the legacy that is Paper Mill and for the experience to be as fulfilling as you want it to be as an actor is really rewarding. 

“I can safely say this has been beyond my expectations. Not only have I found an amazing theater to work at, but I feel I’ve found kind of a family…. The cast really gelled,” he said, and admitted that doesn’t always happen during the run of a play or musical. “Especially during the holidays, you want to feel like the people you’re working with are worthy of stealing time away from your family. So I feel really lucky.”

Donna English is proud to be setting a record during this show. She is now the performer who has been in the most number of shows at Paper Mill Playhouse. “It’s my 11th over a 25-year period,” she said; she is playing the mysterious loner Marie. English lives in Montclair, and gushed, “I love working 20 minutes from my home, and it’s a beautiful theater.” She also noted the warm feeling the production has, that “it’s a big family” amongst the cast and crew. 

English said that a regional theater was part of her inspiration to be an actor while growing up in Oklahoma. “There was only one. It spurred me on to do what I do.”

She said she has loved working at Paper Mill over the years. “Their motto for a while was ‘Broadway in your backyard’ and that’s so true for Paper Mill, which has great quality in performers and Broadway sets and costumes that we are using.”

And the onstage magic mentioned before? English gets to use it too in her role. “It’s so much fun! I thought it was going to be harder than it is,” she said of getting it right while on stage. “It’s fun to hear the reaction from the audience” when the sorcery happens, she said.

The enchantment stays on stage till December 29. No worries, you’ll be home before the clock chimes midnight.