Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cinderella—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland


Busby Berkley Meets Cinderella

This is a new musical production of Cinderella with book, music, lyrics and conducting by Ezra Weiss.  It is directed and choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director).  It will play through May 26th at their site 1819 NW Everett St.  For more information, go to www.nwcts.org

The lead-in above should tell you all.  If you are expecting to see a traditional interpretation of this classic fairy tale, perish the thought.  This production owes more to Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Busby Berkley and Pixar, than it does to the old masters of children’s tales.  The musical numbers could be right out of those Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney films of the 40’s, or a series of tap-dancing Berkley musicals from the 30’s, like GoldDiggers….  And the marriage of these two art forms works surprisingly well.

I think everyone knows the traditional story of the wicked step-mother (Phyllis Lang) and the two step-sisters (Annie Eldridge & Mary Cosart) who keep Cinderella (Sophie MacKay) as a virtual slave in their house.  And then comes the Big Ball, where all fair maidens of the country are invited.  The King (Erik James) and Queen (Melody Bridges) are anxious to have their son, the Prince, Bobby (Martin Tebo) married off and do his princely duties, mainly, having an heir to the throne.

But this version is being told by the Prince’s page, the Narrator, Armando (John Ellingson).  And Cindy’s fairy-godmother, Madame Tatyana (Elizabeth Gibbs) is actually a dance instructor.  And the Prince is really looking for a leading lady for a musical he wants to produce and star in and…you guessed it…“hey, kids, let’s put on a show.”  If this all sounds familiar, it’s meant to.  Mixing of genres is a risky business, as you have to have an in-depth knowledge of both, then, find the similarities, and magically blend them seamlessly together, so that they create their own genre.  Luckily, Mr. Weiss is a whiz at this, as it is all splendid.

And, since this is essentially a dancing show, you need a very simple and open set (designer, Jeff Seats), to encompass sometimes as many as 20 tap-dancers.  You also have to re-create the costumes (designer, Shana Targosz) for the musicals of those eras (20’s to 40’s).  And you need a youthful cast that can tap and tap and tap…and still have breath for singing and acting.  A large order, well rendered by the above mentioned people.

And to keep this whole ensemble together and in sync is Sarah Jane Hardy, both director and choreographer.  It is a monumental task and she does it seemingly effortlessly.  As far as I’m concerned, she can rank herself easily with the likes of Berkley and Kelly and Astaire.  She is my hero.  As one of her chorus members, Madeleine, put it, she is amazing to work with.  And it shows.

Mr. Ellingson, as the Narrator, is a cross between the crab in Little Mermaid and Luminere’ in Beauty and the Beast.  His singing and acting carry the show forward and keep it moving.  He fits the character to a tee.  And Ms. Mackay, as the title character, is cute as a button and her singing and acting talents are spot on.  Her role is not the meek person usually pictured but is representative of a strong female.  A welcome addition to this modern world.

Mr. Tebo as the Prince plays him as a rather meek misfit looking for a partner in life, not just a lover.  Again, a welcome update.  Ms. Gibbs, as the god-mother, lends a sense of reality to the proceedings, professing one must work hard to get what one needs in life.  And the dancing chorus, especially the look-alike blondes, is right out of the 30’s and they are wonderful tappers.  My favorite numbers are I Don’t Need Lights, I Just Wanna Dance, and The Show Must Go On.

Ninety minutes, well spent, in a time machine that will transport you from the childish tales of hundreds of years ago, through the blindly uplifting era of the musicals of yesteryear, to the empowered view of today’s modern world.  Obviously, I highly recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  (For another perspective on this production, go to
www.swwastar.blogspot.com).