Tuesday, Mar 20, 2018
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'Cinderella' a little long but still a feast for the eyes

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Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is the equivalent of feeding red meat to the lion that is Broadway.

It’s got memorable music, lavish costumes, and enchanting special effects. More important for the Great White Way, it gleefully taps into a fairy tale aesthetic that all but guarantees another generation of theatergoers.

An opening night audience sprinkled with little girls wearing princess outfits confirmed that Thursday, when the touring company of the Tony Award-winning Broadway show landed at the Stranahan Theater for six performances.

It’s a musical with a curious pedigree, having been penned by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein in 1957 as a television production starring Julie Andrews. Two more TV versions followed in the ’60s and ’90s before the theater reverse-engineered its timeless love story with a bit of plot expansion and a dollop of social consciousness. What, after all, is a fairy tale without a moral?

Most American children become familiar with the plot in toddlerhood: Beautiful, lonely Ella (Tatyana Lubov) works as a scullery maid for her evil stepmother Madame (Sarah Smith) and stepsisters (Joanna Johnson, Nicole Zelka), all the while dreaming of a better life.

Stuck in his castle up the road, dragon-slaying Prince Topher (Louis Griffin) wallows in his own loneliness, even as his Machiavellian chief minister (Vincent B. Davis) schemes to seize farmland from the populace. To keep the prince distracted, the minister convinces him to throw a ball. Every eligible young lady in the land will be invited, and if the stars align, his highness just might find a bride.

A ball requires a wardrobe of finery, which Madame and her haughty daughters have in abundance. As they head off to the palace with a comic certainty of matrimonial success, Ella remains at home, which is to say, ripe for a visit from a fairy godmother (Leslie Jackson) determined to make the “Impossible: Possible.”

That’s just one of the memorable songs by the team behind Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and The Sound of Music. You can even hear melodic precursors of the latter, which would be their final Broadway show.

This is not, however, your mother or grandmother’s Cinderella. Beyond breezily familiar tunes like “Ten Minutes Ago,” “In My Own Little Corner,” and “Do I Love You,” this current Broadway staging includes songs that weren’t in either TV versions, including “Loneliness of Evening,” which was cut from South Pacific.

There’s also a heightened sense of politics in Douglas Carter Beane’s revisionist script. Corbin Williams’ rabble-rouser Jean-Michel spends the entire show railing against the monarchy.

Youngsters almost certainly won’t take note of that, or get the occasional adult-oriented remark by Vincent B. Davis’ wonderfully snide Lord Pinkleton, a king in his own mind.

They will, however, delight in Lubov’s engaging performance as the title character, this incarnation feistier than most. Louis Griffin’s Prince Topher is both to be loved and laughed at, while Smith, Johnson, and Zelka bring plenty of comic panache to the party.

Mostly, though, a show like Cinderella is about the visuals. How will Cinderella instantly trade her servant togs for a beautiful gown? What about that pumpkin-cum-golden carriage pulled by four white steeds? Rest assured the technical staff works some minor miracles designed to impress eyes of all ages.

Clocking in at about two hours (plus intermission), this Cinderella seems a bit long for its intended audience. Blame several extended dance sequences that unfold like endurance tests for the performers.

Then again, length is an observation a parent would make. For most kids, time will fly by.

Performances of Cinderella at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., continue at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $38-$73, available at the Stranahan box-office, 419-381-8851, or from theaterleague.com.

Contact Mike Pearson at mpearson@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.

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