The story of Cinderella and her Prince dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt in 7BC. The most widely known version of the story comes from Frenchman Charles Perrault in the 1600s, and is the basis for the iconic Brothers Grimm fairytale of 1812. We’ve seen countless iterations of the story since, including a Disney movie and multiple stage musicals.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein production originated as a movie musical in 1957, starring Julie Andrews in the title role. In 2013, it was properly adapted for the Broadway stage, and was nominated for 9 Tony Awards. This beautiful and magical production is finally making its Australian premiere at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre in November – the first professional international production outside of the U.S.
But what is it about this rags to riches story that audiences love so much? We chat with lead cast members Shubshri Kandiah (Ella) and Ainsley Melham (Prince Topher) to find out.
Shubshri is a graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Griffith University, holding a Bachelor of Musical Theatre. Having launched her professional career, playing the role of Princess Jasmine in the national tour of Disney’s Aladdin, Shubshri is fast becoming a sought-after performer. Her credits include Brianna in Belvoir’s national tour of Fangirls, Ismene in Antigone with Queensland Theatre and The Pearlfishers for Opera Queensland. As a woman of South Asian heritage, Shubshri is proud and honoured to be taking on the role of Ella.
Ainsley was most recently seen playing the title role in Pippin for John Frost and Suzanne Jones to reopen the Sydney Lyric following Covid-19 theatre shutdowns. Prior to this he appeared in Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2019 season playing the role of Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Ainsley starred in the title role of the Broadway production of Aladdin for Disney Theatrical Productions following his success in the Australian production of Aladdin playing at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne, Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane and Crown Theatre in Perth. He also played the title role in the Aladdin live capture at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End and was due to head back to Broadway in 2020 when theatres closed around the world. Ainsley has appeared as Sonny Malone in Xanadu for Matthew Management at Hayes Theatre Company and performed in The Stonnington Classics series in Broadway S’Wonderful. Ainsley recently co-founded We The Industry Inc. with Callum Francis, a charitable organisation which strives for inclusivity across all disciplines in Australian Theatre.
I have to ask the obvious question: are you excited to be working together again?
Shubshri: Hmm… Not really… [laughs]
Ainsley: It was so thrilling when we found out. What was what was most exciting really was when we walked up to the audition and stood there in the waiting room together, because we were like “this could be this could be a real thing, getting back together”. And this time, the fact that we actually get to rehearse the show from day one and go through the whole rehearsal process and then mount a show together is really exciting. Last time [on Aladdin] it was so quick. It was like this is Shubshri, she’s going to be really good, and we were on stage together the next day. There’s a great story about when we’re in the audition together. And the director had said to ship straight. You know, when you’re when you’re thinking about Cinderella, I think of her it’s like a little bit more scruffy. Like she she’s a bit of a street rat. And both of us looked at each other. We were like, oh my gosh, how the tables have turned.
This is the first time we are seeing this production of Cinderella in Australia – is it exciting to be working on a show from the ground up?
Shubshri: Yeah, and it’s you know, it’s one of those stories… it’s a classic tale that we kind of all grew up with. I think the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of Cinderella is super exciting, because it takes all those classic elements that we love from the original tale, but has so much extra stuff added. Such funny songs, beautiful costumes… it gives us a more in-depth look at the characters. It’s a really great adaptation.
Do you have a favourite song from the show?
Shubshri: I don’t know if I have a favourite…
Ainsley: The Stepsister’s Lament.
Shubshri: Oh, yes! The Stepsister’s Lament!
Ainsley: That’s my favourite. It’s so nice to have a show where obviously you to get some beautiful numbers, but all of the supporting characters to really get that moment to shine.
You two have famously worked together on the Australian production of Aladdin, but have you worked with any of the other lead cast before?
Shubshri: I haven’t worked with anybody else before. I think it’s incredibly exciting to have such experienced performers, especially for me to be able to have somebody to look up to and learn from.
Ainsley: I’ve watched Todd for many years on stage and on screen, and I’ve seen Silvie perform and sing. My mother was thrilled when they said it was Tina Bursill [as Madame] because she was an avid fan of Doctor Doctor. So she was just over the moon that I would be in the same room with her. So I think, as Shubshri said, it’s really exciting to be in a room with really experienced performers that we can learn from.
Shubshri, you’ve pivoted from Fangirls to Cinderella – shows with completely different styles. Do you have any tips for performers wanting to shift genres?
Shubshri I don’t really [laughs] I think for me, being drawn to certain things, you kind of just give your all to it and hope that what you can bring is is enough. And, you know, I think that’s kind of what I hoped for with Fangirls. And it’s what I’m hoping for with Cinderella as well.
Ainsley: If I can jump in and say Shubshri brings is just a beautiful sense of self to everything that she does. So, you know, whether it be Fangirls or Cinderella, it’s a great lesson for young performers to be true to themselves.
Do you see parts of yourselves in Ella and Topher?
Shubshri: I think in every character that you do, you find elements of yourself. I think it gives it that truth behind the performance. And it’s the same thing with Cinderella’s journey, me finding those bits that I can relate to, and really spending a bit of time on that.
Ainsley: What I love about the Prince is that he is he is presented not just as a handsome old all but together prince. He’s presented as this young guy with insecurities, doesn’t really know his future and his direction. And I feel like we can all relate to that to some degree. And so I feel like that’s my character.
Cinderella opens at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre in November.
For tickets and more information, visit cinderellamusical.com.au