You could search o’er all the land and not find a show that fits my holiday entertainment needs as snugly as “Cinderella.”
I admit to some skepticism. I went into Children’s Theatre Company’s show expecting it to exceed my recommended daily allowance of princess, but I am pleased to report that, although there are one or two of them, the show does not feel princessy at all. Instead, it’s a souped-up take on the story you know: Cinderella (Rajané Katurah) picks up after her vile stepmother (Autumn Ness) and stepsisters (Kimberly Richardson and Ashawnti Sakina Ford) until she manages to sneak out to a ball where she meets Prince Eric (Dwight Leslie), whose love could help her escape the cinders.
But the fairy-tale story is the least interesting thing about CTC’s “Cinderella.”
The most interesting thing is Ness, who is hilarious as the stepmother but also functions as a master of ceremonies. She interacts with the audience (particularly one embarrassed theatergoer whose visage is projected on a Kiss Cam and who must referee a dispute between the sisters), hurls T-shirts at them, calls an impromptu boxing match and schemes her way into the castle in a performance that is part Vegas insult comic, part game show host and all delightful.
Some of the insults are directed at the Kiss Cam guy and some are directed elsewhere (“If I wanted to live in misery, I’d move to Fridley”), but most are directed at Cinderella. There’s a fair amount of cruelty in the play, but it’s there to establish a how-not-to-behave baseline, because the show really is about kindness.
Katurah makes her title character a beacon of goodness, with humor that keeps her from being sticky sweet. This take on “Cinderella” is decidedly modern, what with its pop hits, references to eternal Interstate 35W road construction and nods to Lady Gaga in “A Star is Born,” Lizzo and Marie Kondo. But maybe the most modern thing about it is that Cinderella and her prince fall for each other not because they’re great dancers (although they are) or because they’re both super-attractive (although they are), but because each recognizes in the other a kindred spirit who wants to make the world a better, fairer place.
This “Cinderella” also takes time to point out that the lovebirds are from different classes and that’s no big whoop. After all, Eric isn’t the only famous prince who recently fell in love with a controversial “commoner” who also happened to be an actor with a crass family.
One change in the current “Cindy” is that some of the stepfamily roles have been played by men in drag, a convention borrowed from British panto shows, but they’re now played by women. It’s a smart shift because, although they’re played broadly, they still feel like actual characters with human needs. That makes the Victorian choral ensemble that performs between scenes feel out of place, since they’re also part of that panto tradition and since everything else on stage feels so contemporary. But that may simply be my dismay at hearing carols sung a good three weeks before I’m ready to bust out “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” To be fair, all of that will make more sense as we get past Thanksgiving and into the holiday season.
But that is the most minor of quibbles about this boisterous, quicksilver show, which has been precision-engineered for fun.
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