Monday, November 14, 2016

A Creative, Cacophonous Cinderella

Kids will roll in the aisles for this modern take on an old tale. 

Photo by Dan Norman. 
Sometimes in life, you need to take a risk and go for something unexpected.

The latest production of Cinderella at the Children's Theatre Company is just such an event. Rather than go with the equally excellent but competing visions of Disney and Rogers and Hammerstein, the Children's Theatre decided to flip the story on its head and go with something entirely new.
Photo by Dan Norman. 
The result is an edgy, modern, physical take on the classic fairy tale that has kids leaping with excitement and their parents rolling in the aisles.
Photo by Dan Norman. 
This Cinderella is narrated on stage by a Victorian family as they celebrate Christmas. This family routinely interrupts scenes (or more literally, covers scene changes) from the Cinderella story to tell jokes, tap and clog dance, and sing some relatively obscure carols. It was a little unexpected at first, but provided a heartwarming holiday feel to the story and provided cast extras with a little more exposure to the audience.
Photo by Dan Norman. 
The Cinderella story itself contains the same plot elements as always. This one focuses more on the stepmother and ugly sisters than Cinderella herself, giving them about 50/50 equal time in the show. This is a great strategy for drawing in kids - they absolutely loved the stepsisters - although as an adult I was yearning for a little bit more of Cinderella and her prince. The stepsisters are steeped in modern pop culture references, singing portions of popular pop hits, telling jokes about local sports teams and dabbing and Beyonce-ing their way across the stage. The kids in the audience LOVED these modern touches and it really got them engaged with the show. It was definitely a smart strategy and something that I hope more kid-centric shows will consider incorporating.
Photo by Dan Norman. 
The cast for this show is wonderful, beginning with Traci Allen Shannon as Cinderella. Shannon has a wonderful warm aura that resonates from the stage, and she is a perfect choice (and role model) in this part. Her talent and warm nature keep the show from getting too "out there" from the original, and her voice perfectly syncs with David Murray (playing Prince Eric). Murray has a Jamie Foxx quality that definitely centers him in swoon-worthy territory, particularly with his excellent cover of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" (which shockingly every child in the audience knew all the words to. Who knew?). My only quibble with Murray is his wig, which is a little over the top, but I think that was the point - so I'll let it go.

Autumn Ness (the Stepmother), Reed Sigmund (stepsister Dorcas) and Dean Holt (stepsister Pearl) are really the trio to watch here. They are clearly well rehearsed, performing some insanely physical comedic stunts (around an open orchestra pit no less - I had periodic heart attacks watching them!) without a single moment of hesitation. These three are bawdy, sly and just plain funny. They have a collective Three Stooges meets Jim Carrey edge that the kids loved, their Lisa Frank-colored wardrobe is certainly eye popping.
Photo by Dan Norman. 
The ensemble itself is also terrific, weaving in and out of scenes and transitions with aplomb. It's a really diverse group of performers, which was so encouraging to see. It's awesome to have kids see shows that have an on-stage representation of America's real population; the Children's Theatre Company always does an amazing job with this, but I want to keep congratulating them. Companies are diversifying all over the Twin Cities but we can still do better - please keep on!
Photo by Dan Norman. 
The set and costume design, by Eduardo Sicangco, is fabulous and lavish. Beginning with the Victorian carolers who intersperse the scenes, every detail has been thought out down to the last shoelace and top hat. Cinderella's hearth and the palace are truly exceptional sets, not only featuring gorgeous elements but some really striking visual effects (such as mice that move as if they are animated). The stepsisters' costumes are straight out of a Lisa Frank fantasy with spectacularly bright colors, unbelievable proportions and just general excess that works for the characters. Cinderella's ball and wedding gowns are gorgeous and provide any interested party with plenty of fantasy material. It's awesome to see such a rich vision come to life, and hats off to Sicango for creating such a beautiful piece that kids can really engage with.
Photo by Dan Norman. 
There is nothing wrong with abolishing traditions - I am a huge fan of flipping the script - and this Cinderella really fits the bill. It is charming without being too precious, edgy without being trashy, modern without forgetting its origins, lively while still having some heart. There are jokes for parents and kids, and some holiday singing thrown in to-boot. Children's Theatre Company's Cinderella is a marvelous example of the magic that can happen when you dare to ask, "What if?" It's a gorgeous show with a beautiful, diverse cast that perform their socks off. Please go see this show - tickets would make a fabulous gift for whichever holiday you choose to celebrate this season.
Photo by Dan Norman.
Cinderella runs through December 31 at the Children's Theatre in Minneapolis. For more information or to buy tickets, please click this link.