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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Cinderella
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of A Christmas Carol


Devaune Bohall and Eric Bond
Photo by Mark Gluckman
The classic fairy tale of "Cinderella" has spawned numerous film and theatrical adaptations. While the Disney animated film and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical are probably the two most well-known versions, Portland musician Ezra Weiss has crafted his own musical take on the tale. This version is what Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale is currently presenting and, while it won't erase the magic or memorable tunes from those two more popular adaptations, it does have a few fun modern updates and results in a charming take on the classic tale.

The well-known plot elements of the fairy tale are intact in Weiss' adaptation. Poor Cinderella is forced to clean her wicked stepmother's house while also putting up with her nasty stepsisters. Meanwhile, the King and Queen decide it's time for their son, the Prince, to find a bride, so they throw a ball for all of the eligible women in the kingdom. But Cinderella's stepmother won't allow her to attend. Fortunately, Cinderella's fairy godmother appears and, through magic, gives Cinderella a beautiful dress and glass slippers as well as a way for her to get to the ball. But the magic spell will wear off come midnight which forces Cinderella to flee before the Prince can find out who she really is.

Weiss still puts the main focus of the story on the relationship between Cinderella and the Prince and the Prince's efforts to find her once she is forced to leave the ball when midnight comes. But Weiss has the story told by the Prince's page Armando, who serves as a comical narrator, and makes the main aspiration for both Cinderella and the Prince their need to dance and find an appropriate dance partner—the possibility of marriage is just a happy added benefit that comes with finding that person. Also, Cinderella's fairy godmother has now been turned into a Russian ballet instructor called Madam Tatyana.

Weiss does a good job of combining the "let's put on a show" mentality of the Prince and Cinderella's love of performing and dancing with the classic fairy-tale story and in doing so finds a nifty way to combine the shared similarities of the two genres. However, most of Weiss' songs aren't that memorable. However, the repetitive "I Just Wanna Dance" has a catchy tune and the jazz influence in many of the songs is a benefit, as are the fun lyrics. The style of music also allows for plenty of tap dancing in the show.

The cast are all having a fun time portraying their updated, modern characters. Devaune Bohall and Eric Bond are charming as Cinderella and Prince Bobby, both bringing a natural ease and determination to their parts. Stefan Linder is a joy as the suave Armando, and Kathleen Berger is appropriately sassy and direct as Cinderella's fairy godmother. Cynthia Elek and Tony Hodges are properly anxious as the Queen and King, wanting Bobby to marry as soon as possible, while Alexxis Briviesca and Alexandra Utpadel are a hoot as the two stepsisters, delivering their many back-handed compliments with glee. Marcia Weinberg finds some comedy beneath the evil stepmother.

Director and choreographer Hilary Hirsch keeps the energy high and the sappiness low and also instills a playfulness into the whole production. While most of the cast are adept singers, Hirsch should work on the projection of a few of her cast in order for them to be better heard over the pre-recorded musical tracks. Also, while none of the cast achieves the high caliber skills of a professional dancer, they all are cohesive in the many fun tap numbers which Hirsch has choreographed well.

With a modern update, Ezra Weiss' Cinderella is a fresh take on the classic tale. While his score is only serviceable, he has crafted a quick-moving script with fun updated characters who show that simply fulfilling the desire to dance, and finding the right dance partner, is how one can live happily ever after. Theatre Artists Studio's production is a charming way to spend 90 minutes and will most likely be a welcome change to the familiar adaptations of the famous story, especially for younger fans of the fairy tale who know the Disney film by heart.

Cinderella at Theatre Artists Studio runs through December 13th, 2015, with performances at 4848 East Cactus Road in Scottsdale. Tickets are on sale at www.TheStudioPHX.org or by calling 602.765.0120

Book, Music and lyrics by Ezra Weiss
Director/Choreographer/Set Designer: Hilary Hirsch
Musical Director/Stage Manager: Molly Robinson
Costume Design: Jean Aiken
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston

Cast: Devaune Bohall: Cinderella
Eric Bond: Prince Bobby
Tony Hodges*: King
Cynthia Elek: Queen
Stefan Linder: Armando
Kathleen Berger: Madam Tatyana
Marcia Weinberg: Stepmother Purline
Alexis Briviesca: Stepsister Pustula
Alexandra Utpadel: Stepsister Putrice
Corinne Tachuk/Devyn Garret: Abigail / Female Ensemble
Peyton Geery: Leo / Male Ensemble

* Member, Actors' Equity Association


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