Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
You all know the basic fairy-tale plot, but in this version there are a few new twists, including a sympathetic stepsister, Gabrielle (Shawna Eiermann), her revolutionary love interest Jean-Michel (Michael Coury Murdock), and a villainous major-domo named Sebastian (Larry Williams), who tricks Prince Topher (Zachary Hasbany) into signing repressive legislation. The stepmother, Madame (Daniela Innocenti-Beem), is more cartoonishly nasty and klutzy than darkly evil. Even Cinderella (Brittany Law) gets a makeover into a conscientious young woman who aspires to create a kind and just worldand must come into her own self-confidence and belief in her dreams before she can partner with the prince.
That's what makes it truly a modern tale, and more palatable for today's young audiencesPrince Topher and Cinderella are equals, each having to find their life path and learn who they are before they embark on a journey together. Topher transforms from clueless, affable dork to aware, awakened, benign ruler who finally knows his destiny. He appreciates all his citizens individually and couldn't care less about Cinderella's humble origins. She in turn overcomes her lack of self-worth, embraces the wisdom of her fairy godmother Marie (Mary Gannon Graham), and rises to her newfound power with grace and generosity.
Hasbany and Law make a charming couple, both adept with the humor and the earnest love-looks, and both possessing solid, easy-to-listen-to vocals. Innocenti-Beem is a terrifically funny stepmother, making a fine comic trio with Eiermann as Gabrielle and ScharyPearl Fugitt as daughter Charlotte. Fugitt's number with the court ladies, "Stepsister's Lament," is a comic highlight of the production. Graham's Marie threatens to steal the show, with delightful demeanor and operatic vocals. Her performance in a beautiful added song, "There's Music in You," shows off her stellar soprano.
The ensemble as a whole is quite capable, dancing and singing with aplomb, and often contributing comic moments. Standouts include Sean O'Brien as Lord Pinkleton, Williams as Sebastian, Murdock as Jean-Michel, and Casey Rusher and Zach Frangos as small furry animals.
Director Sheri Lee Miller creates some beautiful stage pictures and does well to minimize scene changes and keep the action moving. Her understanding of the new book enables a new understanding of the old tale, and capitalizes on Beane's talent for comedy. Two and a half hours is a long time for the very young to sit still, and might have indicated cutting a few of the reprises, but older children (and adults) will appreciate the magical stage action and the updated romance.
Paul Smith's music direction delivers excellent fullness from his small pit orchestra and smooth stage performances. Scenic design by Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen, combined with Hansen's lighting design and projections by Chris Schloemp, create a beautiful and versatile spectacle, with relatively swift scene shifts for such massive set pieces. Pamela J. Johnson and her assistant Chelsa Lindam lavishly meet the challenge of multiple elaborate costumes for each performer, and also create magical transformations that are wonderfully effective surprises. The gorgeous jewel-tone palette delights and enhances the fairy-tale aura.
Michella Snider's choreography is often sprightly, but occasionally staid. Lifts in the courtiers' waltz overreach the performers' capabilities, whereas the waltz moves otherwise are quite pretty. Jessica Johnson's sound design does a great job lifting performers' voices above the orchestra.
Make a date to see the show with someone who will sit back with you and enjoy the magical fun and the updated sensibilities, and relax with a little fol-de-rol for a few hours.
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella, through May 26, 2019, at Spreckels Theatre Company, Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park CA. Tickets $18-$36 can be purchased online at http://www.spreckelsonline.com or by phone at 707-588-3400.