Leave it to director Peter Brosius and his team at Children’s Theatre Company to find new ways to make “Cinderella” fresh and winning.

Although the show has been staged 16 times at CTC, the production that opened Friday is anything but ho-hum. “Cinderella” is staged in the pantomime style, with men in drag playing principal roles.

Panto is almost like sketch comedy in that it makes room to reflect current events. Brosius’ staging includes dances such as the nae nae — which hit the target audience in a sweet spot — and jokes about Vikings kicker Blair Walsh and singer Justin Bieber.

All of these elements make for a riotously funny revival of the classic rags-to-royalty story.

Meanwhile, “Cinderella” has pop songs delivered with heart and sweetness by Traci Allen Shannon and David Murray as Cinderella and the Prince. The show also has a gaudy stepfamily, headed by Autumn Ness as the mother trying to corral geeked-out daughters Pearl and Dorcas (Dean Holt and Reed Sigmund, who make a genius comedy duo).

The director takes two distinct tacks while managing to create a seamless whole. The central story, about a poor girl longing to escape her life of drudgery, is presented in a straight, gentle manner. Shannon finds the hunger, the hurt and romantic payoff in Cinderella’s dreaming.

At the same time, Brosius builds an atmosphere of comic pandemonium. From the get-go, his cast interacts with the audience, encouraging people to rise from their seats at the sound of a secret word. The actors take selfies with theatergoers and lob T-shirts into the crowd as if this were a sporting event.

It’s a risky strategy — these kinds of things are usually done toward the end of shows, just in case the audience can’t be brought back into line — but on opening night, the cast was always in control, even when they cracked themselves up.

The music, drawn from pop songs that have been rearranged by conductor Victor Zupanc, includes Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” sung by the stepsisters.

“Cinderella” succeeds so well in part because the talent pool onstage is so deep. Murray, a newcomer to the CTC stage, has a buttery tenor that complements Shannon’s sweet soprano. The two are joyful on “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” made famous by Whitney Houston.

The production is handsomely designed by Eduardo Sicangco. The lively choreography by Linda Talcott Lee includes a competitive tap number.

The first holiday show out of the gate this season, “Cinderella” speaks to youngsters and adults alike, offering humor, wit and joy.

 

rpreston@startribune.com

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