CINDERELLA

Theatre Under The Stars, Malkin Bowl (Stanley Park), until August 18th

Photo: Lindsay Elliot

My Two Cents

By Max Timmins 

 

While its heart is in the right place, Theatre Under The Stars’ Cinderella, but is lacking in real theatre magic. I was dazzled on a few occasions, don’t get me wrong, but for the most part it felt bloated and oddly hodgepodge.

 

Douglas Carter Beane’s updated version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic first appeared on Broadway in 2013. It makes sense to want to modernize the story’s themes. The story of Cinderella so ingrained in the cultural consciousness that liberties taken are usually welcome. There’s a subplot about revolution and the mistreatment of the poor that brings us the new character of Jean-Michel (Daniel Curalli), friend to Cinderella and romantic hopeful to stepsister Gabrielle (Vanessa Merenda). This causes the show to lose focus. There are so many tangents, that we lose the simple love story between a prince and a pauper. There’s just too much plot too late in the game.

 

Mallory James makes for a sincere, persistent, and curious-minded Cinderella. Her characterization is faultless. Her singing voice is pleasant, but she falters somewhat on the high notes. Her prince, Topher (Tré Cotton) has an effortless charm and warmth about him, and a great voice. It’s easy to see why they would be attracted to each other, but I never truly felt the chemistry between them (for what it’s worth, this may have had something to do with my sitting very close to the back, so far removed from the action that I wish I’d brought binoculars so I could get a better look at their facial expressions). Curalli and Merenda as the B-plot would-be lovers are energetic and a bit over the top, but such great fun to watch. Laura Cowan is lovely as the Fairy Godmother, but seemed a bit tentative in her beautiful act-two ballad “There’s Music In You”. 

 

The “magic” sequences fall short for the most part, though I did appreciate the inventiveness of the pumpkin-to-carriage and mice-to-footmen transitions. Prince Topher’s entourage in the opening sequence is also cleverly done. And I cannot say enough good things about Kyle McCloy and Connor Briggs, who play Cinderella’s horses. The horses? Yes, the horses. They’re fantastic. Every time they galloped across the stage, I couldn’t help but smile. In fact, overall the ensemble is very strong, especially where dance is concerned - the ball scenes are lavish and gorgeous, thanks to Nicol Spinola’s sumptuous choreography. It’s easy to see they are working incredible hard - from singing, dancing, moving sets, aiding in the magic, playing multiple roles. However, one of the show’s highlights is easily the simple quartet of “A Lovely Night”, performed by Madame (Caitlin Clugston), Charlotte (Amanda Lourenco), Gabrielle and Cinderella. Director Sarah Rodgers has a true gift for finding real, intimate, human moments in larger-than-life characters. I just wish there had been more of them.

 

The orchestra failed to meet the standards I’ve come to expect from TUTS. That off-key wheeze that starts up so many numbers was irritating, especially with Richard Rodgers' rich and beautiful score. It wasn’t much of an issue once they got going, but I found myself wincing a bit more than I’d like. Also, in terms of the set, I appreciated the aesthetic they were going for, but there were times I was genuinely terrified that the flies were going to fall and injure someone. It was distracting to say the least. Christina Sinosich’s costumes are beautiful and come in a dazzling rainbow of styles, but overall left me confused to the era - some seemed modern, some balletic, some Victorian. Perhaps this was meant to evoke the story’s timelessness, but it felt more like a mish-mash than anything. 

 

Look, the show itself is really not bad, it’s a just bit messy and lacking cohesiveness. Am I asking too much for a fairytale musical? Maybe. I’m sure kids will love it (though be warned, parents of little ones, it doesn’t let out until 10:30pm). I just hope the pace tightens up as the summer goes on. More runs under their belt may solve a lot these problems. The messages presented in this Cinderella are sorely needed in today’s society - kindness is the greatest virtue, your true value does not come from the clothes you wear, and everyone is worthy of love and dignity. It is wonderful to see to see a Cinderella with agency, and I don’t deny the obvious love and passion and time it’s taken to bring the story to life. But is it enough?