Raleigh Little Theatre’s gorgeous 23rd annual presentation of Jim Eiler and Jeanne Bargy’s marvelous musical version of Charles Perrault’s familiar French fairy tale Cinderella, set in the fictional 18th century kingdom of King Darling III and performed Dec. 8-10, 12, and 14-17, is some enchanted evening (or matinee). It looks like a popup storybook sprung to full, glorious life; and this spirited production puts a new polish on the merry melodies by Eiler and Bargy, plus the Christmas songs that RLT adds to capture the seasonal spirit.

This year, director and choreographer Haskell Fitz-Simons has added a couple of neat new twists to RLT’s seasonal box-office bonanza, and no doubt a host of little princesses (and princes) will invade the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, wearing crowns and (sometimes) fancy miniature ball gowns and carrying scepters and/or magic wands, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.

Susanna Hailey and Ryan Smith, the show’s new Cinderella and Prince Charming, look and sound terrific, and Edward Rutherford gives a regal comic performance as Cinderella’s latest incarnation of the extremely nearsighted King Darling, who nevertheless has an “eye” for a pretty girl. Julia Rogers’ second year as Cinderella’s resourceful Fairy Godmother is even better than her first; Jason Justice (Nip) and Curtis Brown (Tuck) are hilarious as Fairy Godmother’s Helpers; Sandi Sullivan is a scream as the Wicked Stepmother who banishes Cinderella to the kitchen and makes her a virtual slave in her own house; and Tim Cherry (Henrietta) and especially Dennis Poole (Gertrude) once again don hideous drag and bring the house down with their over-the-top comic characterizations of Cinderella’s Ugly Stepsisters.

Director and choreographer Haskell Fitz-Simons and associate choreographer Missy Dapper put pizzazz into the show’s production numbers, musical director Megan Crosson and the RLT orchestra make beautiful music together, and set designers Roger Bridges and Rick Young and costume designer Vicki Olson and wigs and hair stylist Benjamin Butler combine their theatrical genius to help make this must-see musical look every bit as good as it sounds.

Raleigh Little Theatre presents Cinderella Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, Dec. 14-15, at 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 16-17, at 1 and 5 p.m. in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $15-$25. 919/821-3111 or etix through the presenter’s site. Note: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and there will be assistive listening devices at all performances. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/performances/cinderella23.html [inactive 7/07].