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The New York Times

September 27, 2005

“Ugly Princess, Beautiful Soul and Air Guitars”

By Rob Kendt


Love at first sight is fine, but how about love at first "schmutzer"? That's what a diffident, bespectacled inventor, Clyde (Jamie McGonnigal), calls the lint-roller he presents triumphantly to a princess (Meredith McCasland) near the climax of "Isabelle and the Pretty-Ugly Spell."


This family-friendly fairy-tale musical, part of the New York Musical Theater Festival, contains many such knowing fillips: references to "West Side Story" and "Candide," diet jokes and an air-guitar solo. When the ditzy fairy godmother Izzy (Ruth Gottschall) arrives late for her cue through the back door, she blurts, "Sorry, I was on the C train."  These comic asides are not mere winking distractions from the storytelling at hand. Instead they are frosting on a nearly perfect pastry of a show.


The book by Steven Fisher and Joan Ross Sorkin, about a fair princess cursed with perceived ugliness so that she'll be loved for her soul rather than her looks, is consistently witty and well drawn. And the director and choreographer, David G. Armstrong, has whipped a crisp cast of seven into a pleasing froth.


This pristine handling of broad, silly material is most evident in Mr. Fisher's accomplished, endlessly inventive music and lyrics. He can turn up the cleverness for a delicious patter song with a vaguely Latin flavor, "Got to Give to Get"; crank it down for a lovely ballad, "Far From Beautiful"; or do full-cast frenzy - a pre-party anticipation number, "Could This Be the Night"- without insulting the audience's intelligence.


Given that much of the target audience is younger than 10, this is a tall order. But "Isabelle and the Pretty-Ugly Spell" is that rare achievement, matched only by the likes of "Shrek" or "Aladdin": family fare that's much better than it has to be without being too rarefied to make the grade-school groundlings giggle.




2005 New York Musical Theatre Festival



“…a nearly perfect pastry of a show.” 

The New York Times (Rob Kendt)



“…that rare achievement, matched only by the likes of Shrek or Aladdin.” 

The New York Times (Rob Kendt)



“The book by Steven Fisher and Joan Ross Sorkin…is consistently witty and well drawn”

The New York Times (Rob Kendt)



Steven Fisher’s music and lyrics are “accomplished” and “endlessly inventive.” The New York Times (Rob Kendt)



“…family fare that’s much better than it has to be without being too rarefied to make the

grade-school groundlings giggle.” The New York Times (Rob Kendt)



“Isabelle and The Pretty-Ugly Spell, by Steven Fisher and Joan Ross Sorkin, is a pleaser…

a delightful mix of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Cinderella.’”

nytheatre.com (Jamie Robert Carillo)



“Musical theater magic.”

The Scarsdale Inquirer (Debra Banerjee)



“Pure kids’ theatre of the cheeriest sort…Steven Fisher’s bouncy and bright score,

with some dozen songs, matches the book by Fisher and Joan Ross Sorkin.”

Backstage (Ron Cohen)




FEATURED WORK: MUSICALS

ISABELLE AND THE PRETTY-UGLY SPELL

PRESS

ISABELLE AND THE PRETTY-UGLY SPELL

an upside-down Cinderella fairy tale


Music and Lyrics by Steven Fisher

Book by Joan Ross Sorkin and Steven Fisher

  



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