Kindness Conquers All in "Cinderella:" An Interview with Isabella Gomez-Barrientos

Published May 2, 2023

Senior Isabella Gomez-Barrientos stars as Cinderella.

Senior Isabella Gomez-Barrientos stars as Cinderella

Don’t miss the final week of UB Theatre and Dance’s spectacular production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Performances continue from Friday, May 5  – Sunday, May 7, 2023! With a Broadway-ready voice, Junior Music Theatre major Isabella Gomez-Barrientos commands the stage as Ella, and took some time to share her thoughts about the production with us. Tickets are available at:

Q. Would you tell us about the dynamic between the two main characters, Ella (Cinderella) and the Prince (Topher)?

A: I think that Ella and Topher bring a lot of good things out of each other. At least the way I’m going about playing Cinderella, she’s grown up to show kindness. It’s said that her dad was very wealthy and that’s why Madame married him, but then he died, which is how she became Cinderella.

In my mind, Ella was brought up kind (by her dad) and that’s all she knows, so the difference of class (between her and the Prince) doesn’t matter, because she’s kind to everyone regardless. She experiences being the housemaid and tries to take care of everything at home. Instead of feeling resentment, which would be easy, her kindness only grows. She’s definitely a special person to always try to see the good in others.

Isabella Gomez-Barrientos holding hands with co-star Glen Chitty in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" at UB Center for the Arts, April 2023. Photo by Ken Smith.

Isabella Gomez-Barrientos with co-star Glen Chitty in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" at UB Center for the Arts, April 2023. Photo by Ken Smith.

When she and the Prince first meet, it’s significant for both of them in that Sebastian, who takes advantage of Topher’s power by stealing land away from the poor people, orders some of them to bring him water. The people are scared of Sebastian so Ella offers to get it. When she hands it to Topher she is completely taken aback by him. She knows he’s someone of some importance, but not the Prince. She’s insecure about being poor and different.

As the scene continues Ella displays kindness towards Marie, who is also the Fairy Godmother, though we don’t know this yet. Most people think she’s just the town crazy lady. People try to attack Marie but Ella defends her. Topher sees Ella’s kindness and realizes he can have a true connection with someone, a true friend.

It’s funny, the Prince keeps asking Ella, “Have we met before?” and she says, “Yes, but we’re seeing each other for the first time now.” He asks her at the first ball, then at the banquet, and when she tries on the shoe. He’s never quite sure if they met but she’s one hundred percent sure that they have.

I feel that Topher has always been kind, but they erase each other’s insecurities and make each other more confident. What’s cool about this is that, me, being a woman of color, I think that it adds depth to the story. Yes, Cinderella can be white or any color and she’s ostracized for being poor, but it adds another layer because those dynamics definitely exist.

Photo of Isabella Gomez-Barrientos as Cinderella, in ball gown in front of herchariot.

Photo by Ken Smith.

I feel like she doesn’t see herself as beautiful because of all the things between her siblings and mom, and she’s never been told she’s beautiful. She feels very alone and doesn’t have much, whereas Topher has so much, yet he feels alone in that he has no one to share it with and no way of connecting with people because they only see that he’s the Prince and in charge of everything. It’s nice how they can just see each other as people.  

It's a beautiful story and it’s been super eye-opening for me as an actor because I think a lot of young girls can connect to not feeling beautiful or conventionally attractive, and just feeling alone. I feel there’s a certain pressure in college to find your sweetheart and (eventually) get married. It’s been nice to see that you don’t have to be with someone to find your inner beauty, because as much as Topher and Ella help each other see each other, ultimately what we’re trying to make clear with this telling is that each of them is inspired by the other to make the decision that they’re enough and they’re valued and worthy of love and connection.

Q. Unlike some versions of the show, Cinderella runs away from the Prince twice in this production. Does it make sense to you as to why she flees a second time?

A: Insecurity can be so strong, and this story happens within the span of only about three days, so it just doesn’t go away that quickly. In modern times, it takes years of therapy, usually! (laughs)

Your friends can tell you you’re doing great, but it takes awhile to believe it. When she meets the Prince the first time she thinks it’s a fluke. The insecurity overpowers her and she runs away again because she doesn’t feel worthy, even though she is.

I’m very thankful for Ella. She’s been super eye-opening personally. I hope that this is also a show that can open some people’s eyes as well, especially young women, and young women of color, to see that sometimes your self-perception isn’t always right! Just try things and see what happens. (smiles)

She thinks, “I’m kind to everyone. I think it’s time to be kind to myself too, let myself be happy, and try on the slipper to see what happens.”

Cinderella with sister Gabrielle.

Gomez-Barrientos makes peace with stepsister Gabrielle (Kyra Orgass). Photo by Ken Smith.

That’s a very big theme, that kindness is just going to win the battle and what you have to lean back on. It’s very beautiful and I hope that people can see that and learn that they need to be kind to themselves. It’s so important right now, with the state of the world. Giving kindness and grace to ourselves, because it can get very crazy and wacky out there! (laughs)

The show has definitely changed my day to day actions too. I ask myself, “How can I be more kind? More like Ella.”

Q. Everyone we’ve spoken with says the show is a huge spectacle. What’s your perspective?

A. So much of my performance is coming from my love of the arts and the amazing work that everyone in the cast has put into it. It’s gorgeous! The tech crew and design team are busting their booties and doing great. (laughs)

I really connect to Ella a lot of the time. We were staging “Do I love you?” The lyrics and the melody are gorgeous. I can’t wait to hear it with the orchestra because it’s going to sound so good. While I was singing I was very emotional and there were tears welling up, and I didn’t know exactly why. Music is powerful!

We’re trying to make a great effort to bring in people who would not otherwise see themselves at musicals. Again, this is a very beautiful story which everyone knows. Everyone can find something in the show to enjoy, whether it’s the costumes, jokes, the music, or even the one raccoon puppet that makes everyone laugh! We’re trying to make a great effort to show that theater is for everyone and it’s relevant.

Cinderella talks with a raccoon puppet.

Photo by Ken Smith.

Get your tickets early for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella! Meet and take a picture with members of the cast, including Cinderella, the Prince, and more, after every matinee performance.

Please note: American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters will be provided for the May 6, 2pm public performance.