Cinderella at the Orpheum

Paige Faure and Andy Jones in Cinderella. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Paige Faure and Andy Jones in Cinderella. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

For many of us, raised on its various television renditions, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (Hennepin Theatre Trust, performing at the Orpheum Theatre, through Sept 13) is the Cinderella. Those who grew up with this music find it impossible to hear its sweetly memorable melodies without a buzz of nostalgia.

What, then, should we make of Douglas Carter Beane’s appropriation of this music for an updated telling of the classic tale? With his book, Beane has taken the skeleton of the story and added elements of slapstick and political commentary, going to the lengths of adding entirely new characters and plot twists. Some changes work wonderfully. Others do not.

The most welcome addition is the update to the character of Cinderella herself. No longer meek and passive, this Cinderella acts on her desires. She doesn’t sit back to wait for her prince. Further, her desires are not bound to simple romance, but include an urge to help others in need as well. Played endearingly by Paige Faure, who is pitch perfect, Cinderella anchors the show with every charming step. She finds an equally kind and compassionate, though slightly clueless, love interest in Prince Topher, a graceful and sweet Andy Huntington Jones.

Beane also chooses to insert a political allegory into the proceedings, and the result is mixed. A new character, Jean-Michel, played affably by Will Blum, has been added. He is the local political activist and rabble-rouser, singing a new song (to this musical), “Now Is the Time” to the townspeople, trying to gain their attention over the dueling tune of “The Prince Is Giving a Ball”. Although this certainly adds some interest to the plot, fleshing out the bare-bones love story, it carries often feels forced and simplistic, being given little time to develop past broad platitudes.

Jean-Michel also has his own love interest in Gabrielle, one of Cinderella’s stepsisters, a refreshingly sympathetic character and aptly realized by Kaitlyn Davidson. Her boisterous sister Charlotte, who received the loudest applause of the cast, provides comic relief throughout primarily due to the exquisite comic timing of Aymee Garcia.

Where most productions would make the evil stepmother Madame the primary antagonist, and thereby make her characterization distinct, this show instead does little to make this character more than a cliche, though credit is certainly due to Beth Glover for milking every bit of dialogue she is given. The show’s central villain is instead found in Sebastian, played by an expressive Blake Hammond, the prince’s sniveling and manipulative advisor who is nonetheless a bit boring.

Likewise, Anna Louizo’s set design is a snooze, a regurgitation of popular fairy tale aesthetics, with flat cardboard forests and quaint cottages. The costuming, by William Ivey Long, on the other hand, is colorful and inventive, with several onstage, split-second costume transformations, which were all met with vigorous applause.

Filled with well-choreographed dance numbers and a few visual tricks, Cinderella is a largely appealing show. The added songs are generally forgettable and many of the new/modern jokes are a bit on the hokey side, but for those who have visited the Lesley Ann Warren, Brandy, or Julie Andrews versions, they may find a friend in this refreshingly able Cinderella. If nothing else, “In My Own Little Corner,” “Ten Minutes Ago,” and “Impossible” will allow welcome reminiscences.

David and Chelsea Berglund also review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.

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