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A Tale of Cinderella

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Think you know the story of Cinderella? Think again. A Tale of Cinderella, playing a limited run at the Kaye Playhouse, takes the familiar story and adds some new twists of its own. Though not destined to become a classic, it is a reason to look at a well-known tale anew.

If you're familiar with the story from any of its other countless variants, you are familiar with the basic story of A Tale of Cinderella, stepsisters, stepmothers, handsome princes, and glass slippers intact. The big difference here, though, is instead of Germany, England, or other unspecified European location in which the story is frequently set, this story is set firmly in Venice, Italy.

This has some unmistakable benefits. The air of romance that surrounds Venice seems a perfect match for the love story of Cinderella, and the flavor of Venice would seem to allow for sets and costumes that would match the tone of the somewhat fanciful story. Richard Finkelstein's sets and Brent Griffin's costumes burst with color and imagination, and never disappoint.

The book by W. A. Frankonis, however, does. It is seldom funny and very uneven. The first act is almost entirely exposition (the Prince's ball is announced at the very end of it), leaving the second act bogged down in more story than it should be expected to handle. Frankonis weaves Italian words and phrases into the dialogue at frequent, and often inopportune times. The reason for this, since the play never once leaves Venice, is unclear.

However, the book does introduce a number of interesting ideas. Cinderella's godmother, La Stella, for example, appears via gondola waving a magic spoon ("for stirring pasta sauce"). She also has a romantic match in the Prince's godfather, though this aspect of the story sometimes feels too forced. Frankolis also makes Cinderella more than the typical victim, and makes her relationship with mother and father more integral to the story than many other versions do.

The show's score, by Will Severin and George David Weiss (Weiss is given sole credit for the lyrics), though frequently attractive, is at the mercy of the book, which renders most of its numbers in the first act particularly lightweight and ineffective. The score improves drastically in the second act when there is more story to grab onto, and ends up providing a series of entertaining numbers. The big duet between the Prince and Cinderella, "No One Ever Told Me," is particularly memorable.

The direction by Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder handles the story well, but provides few remarkable moments. Adrienne Posner's choreography works very well in the larger dance numbers, but is less successful in the smaller, more character-driven songs. Matt Elie's sound design, unfortunately, leaves quite a bit to be desired, frequently obscuring lyrics and tending to disembody onstage voices.

Michelle Dawson, as Cinderella, is charmingly innocent and cagey, and sings very well, though her Prince, Anthony Hastings, has a less firm grasp on his character. Lorraine Serabian's La Stella is frequently funny, and puts across her songs, including her big second act number "Don't Mess with La Stella," well. Though Cinderella's stepsisters (played by Noelle Gentile and Mary Jane Hansen) are sometimes a little too over-the-top, Lynnie Godfrey, as Cinderella's stepmother, manages to find a good balance between threatening and amusing. John Romeo frequently tries too hard as Il Compari, the Prince's godfather, while Joel Aroeste's understatement usually works well for Cinderella's father.

Though obviously aimed at younger children, A Tale of Cinderella will probably prove worthwhile for adults as well, who think they've seen and heard everything that can possibly be done with the Cinderella story. Though this version doesn't do everything right, it makes you look at the story in a new way, something so many revisitations of classic material today simply do not.

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New York State Theatre Institute
A Tale of Cinderella
Book by W. A. Frankonis, Music and lyrics by Will Severin and George David Weiss
Directed by Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder
The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College
68th Street between Park & Lexington
Tickets: $30 and $25, $15 for students
Reservations: (212) 772-4448
Through May 20