Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
I hope my young friend gets to see this wonderful production of Cinderella to learn that characters can be horribly meanas these arebut also riotously funny. Let's call it a lesson in ambiguity. But there is nothing ambiguous about Children Theatre Company's 2019 version of Cinderella, which is a joyous delight, wrapped up in the guise of a tale told at a Victorian era Christmas party to make this a great holiday entertainment for the entire family.
Children's Theatre Company's Cinderella spans two hours, less a generous twenty-minute intermission, packing every minute with high caliber entertainment. The Victorian Christmas party framing device actually begins in the lobby, with carolers welcoming the audience as they enter, then opens the show with several more traditional songs of the season, staged to depict a party with discernible types, including a delightfully naughty boy, and the sprightly choreography by Linda Talcott Lee enlivening the festivities. After the Santa-red curtain rises and the telling of Cinderella comes to life on stage, we return to the party between scenes, keeping the audience fully engaged while the stunning and elaborate sets by Eduardo Sicangco are changed for the next scene.
Cinderella is also magnified with rollicking comic bits from the two nincompoop step-sisters Pearl (Kimberly Richardson) and Dorcas (Ashawnti Sakina Ford), and horrible stepmother (Autumn Ness). This trio of splendid comediennesin particular, Richardson's gift for physical comedy and Ness' droll line deliveryand the wit inscribed in John B. Davidson's text keep the audience in stitches whenever they appear. Even the scene in which they get their comeuppance is hilarious. Adding to the fun are numerous cleverly inserted anachronisms, both in the script (e.g., references to "Game of Thrones," and, for locals, the neverending construction on Interstate 35) and in the clever use of technology, as in setting up a camcorder to keep track of a lucky front-row audience member selected for the honor.
Of course, the story needs a Cinderella who is authentically kind, insightful, sensitive and beautifulall of which is present in Rajané Katurah, luminescent in the title role. Katurah has demonstrated her glorious vocal gifts in previous shows, and gets to put them to good use in several songs, popular tunes interpolated into the productionin striking contrast to the filigreed old Christmas songs framing the show. Among the songs given to Katurah's Cinderella are "Fight Song," "I Am Light," and "What About Us," in harmony with her handsome, sensitive, new-age Prince, soulfully played by Dwight Leslie. Pearl, Dorcas and Stepmother get such tunes as "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" and "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."
Cinderella would be nothing without a formidably benevolent Fairy Godmother, and here she is superbly embodied by Alexcia Thompson. Austen Fisher is the put-upon Lord High Chamberlain, trying to dissuade the Prince from such concerns as trying to enable all of his subjects to be free and live joyfully, and from marrying for love rather than for status. The tale would not be complete without adorable animal friends. This Cinderella has two devoted mouse friends and a flock of birds right outside her window who come to her aid more than once, darling creations of puppet designer Craig Gottschalk.
Director Peter C. Brosius employs a wizard's array of tricks in staging Cinderella that make it feel at once contemporary and in the mode of a tale as old as time. The way in which we see the Fairy Godmother tidy up Cinderella's topsy-turvy kitchen and the transformation of mice to footmen, for example, really seem like magic, while the wedding celebration (spoiler alert, Cinderella and the Prince do, indeed, tie the knot) becomes a totally now dance party. Brosius draws our attention to wide sweeping vistas, like a magical coach descending down from above, as well as minute details, like the gestures of a small mouse.
The show also excels at engaging the audience, tossing candy, t-shirts, and even wedding cake into the crowd, inviting the audience to offer their opinions on the action, and giving the audience a role in rescuing Cinderella from her stepmother's wrath. Even music director Jason Hansen is drawn into the merry mayhem, with good-natured jokes lobbed out about his Canadian roots. By the way, the music, played by a generous eleven-piece orchestra, is as top drawer as everything else in this production.
In addition to the setsCinderella's rustic kitchen, the stepsister's gaudy dressing room, a sumptuous royal ballroom, and a dream-come true pumpkin-turned coachEduardo Sicangco has designed dizzyingly bright costumes for Pearl, Dorcas and the Stepmother, archly ornate formal wear for the guests at the Prince's ball, detailed apparel that would be right at home in Dickens' A Christmas Carol for the holiday party scenes, a dignified white suit for the Prince that exudes virtue, and glorious gowns for Cinderella to wear at the ball and, finally, at the wedding of the year. Lighting designer Paul Whitaker's shadings of light and darkness are another facet of telling the story.
While the basic, well-known plot of Cinderella remains intact, there is a new slant in which the Prince does not earn Cinderella's adoration merely by virtue of his royal birth, wealth and power, but by demonstrating his ability to change as he recognizes the good which his position can allow him to do for his subjects. We see this happily-ever-after couple as partners who will work together to make the world better.
For the past two holiday seasons, Children's Theatre Company has mounted Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This year, they've brought back Cinderella, which they last staged in 2016. While not as patently a "Christmas story", Davidson's adaptation and Brosius' staging endow it with all the heart, merriment, generosity, and a belief in miracles that form the foundation of the holiday spirit, while finding a way to festoon classic Christmas music upon it like bright red ribbon around a gift package. Cinderella offers a worm portal into the holiday season. It is grand entertainment that truly will delight the entire family.
Cinderella runs through through January 5, 2020, at the Children's Theatre Company at 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis MN. Tickets are $46.00 - $81.00; ten percent discount for purchase of six or more tickets; $10.00 discount for children up to age 17, full time college students, seniors (age 62 and up) and military adults. Rush Tickets: Starting two hours prior to each performance, unsold seats will go on sale to for $20, $15.00 for children, students and seniors (age 62+) at the CTC Ticket Office, in person only. For tickets and information, call 612-874-0400 or visit childrenstheatre.org. Best enjoyed by all ages.
Adapted by: John B. Davidson, based on the fairy tale by Charles Perrault; Director: Peter C. Brosius; Original Music and Arrangements: Victor Zupanc; Choreographer: Linda Talcott Lee; Music Director: Jason Hansen; Set and Costume Design: Eduardo Sicangco; Lighting Design: Paul Whitaker; Sound Design: Sean Healey and Victor Zupanc; Puppet Design: Craig Gottschalk; Projection Designer: Craig Gottschalk; Intimacy Choreographer: James Grace; Conductor: Jason Hanson (11/03- 12/14), Victor Zupanc (12/15 - 1/05); Stage Manager: Nate Stranger; Assistant Stage Manager: Todd Kalina; Assistant Directors: Benjamin Domask-Ruh and Josh Zapata-Palmer; Assistant Choreographer: Katie Taintor; Assistant Lighting Designer: Dustin Morache. .
Cast: Austen Fisher (Lord High Chamberlain/ensemble), Ashawnti Sakina Ford (Dorcas), Rajané Katurah (Cinderella), Dwight Leslie (Prince Eric/ensemble), Autumn Ness (Stepmother), Kimberly Richardson (Pearl), Alexcia Thompson (Fairy Godmother/ensemble). Ensemble: Josh Bagley, Rowan M. Breaux, Marc Gill, Henry Grooms, Delaney Hunter, Gabe Kohlbeck, Gunnar Laughlin, Hugo Mullaney, Madison Neal, Maekalah Ratsabout, Janely Rodriguez, Kate Spence, Angela Steele, Carl Swanson, Symphonia Whitted, Andrea Wollenberg.