Cinderella at the Children’s Theatre Company

Dean Holt, Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund in Cinderella.  Photo by Dan Norman.

Dean Holt, Autumn Ness and Reed Sigmund in Cinderella. Photo by Dan Norman.

In Cinderella (at the Children’s Theatre Company, through Jan 5), Cinderella’s ugly (an understatement) stepsisters, Pearl and Dorcas, are played by CTC vets Dean Holt and Reed  Sigmund.  Her deliciously malevolent stepmother is portrayed by Autumn Ness.

Wow.  Never have I witnessed, in all my years of theater-going, such over-the-top scenery-chewing.  These actors screech and scream and squeal.  They jig, amble and lisp.  Tear a passion to tiny tatters.  Dance and gambol and drop trou and perform balletic pratfalls, perilously close to the Pit of Death (more on this anon).  They sing: Sigmund’s take on Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” is priceless.  They incessantly swat at each other.  Gleefully mistreat poor Cinderella.  Interact with the audience (“Is there,” Mom purrs as she caresses a hapless playgoer, “a Channing Tatum lookalike contest at CTC?”).  Their performances match their delectable costumes (designed by Eduardo Sicangco): colorful, and extremely loud.

Of course you know this story – C cared for by her wicked stepmom, visited by fairy godmother, the ball, C rushing away at the stroke of midnight, the glass slipper, etc.  It’s all here.  The CTC production also contains many entr’acte Christmas carols.  These serve two purposes: they establish Cinderella‘s bona fides as a holiday show, and they permit elaborate set changes.

Are Mom and the Sisty Uglers fun?  Oh, yah, you betcha.  Did the audience eat ’em up with a runcible spoon?  Fer sure.  There were shrieks of delight, from the oldsters as well as from the youngsters (and from me, too, I’ll admit it), every time they marched onstage.  Are they beyond entertaining?  Worth the price of admission?  Definitely.

Do they also highjack the story and give us a distorted, misshapen, superficial Cinderella?  In my not-so-humble opinion, they do.

What’s a Cinderella to do when faced with such madness?  Actor Traci Allen has talent and presence, but she lacks the force of personality – anyone would – needed to stand up to her howling stepfamily.  Allen works hard, but there is nevertheless a bloodless, almost perfunctory quality to Cinderella’s scenes.  The pumpkin-becoming-a-carriage scene is gorgeous, but it somehow felt off-target.

This Cinderella problem culminated, for me, when the stepsisters lock the poor girl in a closet while they, endlessly, try to make the glass slipper fit.  Why, I wondered, is Cinderella so frustratingly passive?  Didn’t the ball change her?  She should be pounding frenetically at the door.

But, at the end of the proverbial day, who really cares.  This Cinderella is great fun.  The music, mostly artfully fractured pop songs, thrills.  The director (CTC artistic director Peter Brosius) unlocked the chains holding Ness, Holt and Sigmund in place and then scrambled to get out of their way.

The design is exquisite, but I must confess that I and my lovely companion were taken aback by the orchestra pit, located in the middle of the playing area.  (Please join me in a prayer: may no one, during the run of Cinderella, fall into the Pit of Death, killing either themselves or music director Victor Zupanc the Canadian – whose work, btw, is vg.  Thank you).

Finally, a sad note: this production is dedicated to the memory of adapter John B. Davidson, who died a few short weeks ago.  Davidson was one of CTC’s founders.  May he rest in peace.

So: go.  Don’t expect a traditional Cinderella.  But do expect to be grandly entertained.

For more info about John Olive please go to his (recently updated) website.

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