Adaptation/Lyrics by Alyn Cardarelli
Adaptation of a classic fairy tale is a pumpkin in need of some magic
|Broadway in Chicago i/a/w Emerald City Theatre presents|
Review by Joy Campbell
A piece of advice to anyone who has aspirations of writing children’s musical theater: sit in the audience during a performance; if the kids get antsy and chatty, their attention isn’t being held. Also, repeat after me: kids don’t like ballads. Kids DON’T like ballads. They may forgive you one, but you’re pushing it. I don’t care how beautiful the singer’s voice or how hard you worked on the lyrics, kids. don’t. like. ballads.
Don’t get me wrong: the cast is talented enough, but they can only do so much with a tepid script and forgettable music. The story is basically along traditional lines with a few customizations, but nothing really all that imaginative. Evil stepmother (Heather Townsend) is dutifully nasty, and she and her obnoxious daughters (two truly funny characters, played in drag by Tommy Burlington and Mark Kosten) treat Cinderella (Missy Karle) like a slave. We’re supposed to like Cinderella because she’s good, but let’s face it: good is boring, and having her sing sweet songs isn’t really going to give us much of an interesting person to root for. We see some fire when she grabs the prince’s sword away from him, but the defiant character that is hinted at never really develops. There is the usual confusion with bumbling Prince Jason (Blake Reddick), whose valet (Corey L. Mills) tries to confound his plan to marry (and put him out of a job). Godmother (Jennifer T. Grubb) with the assistance of a magicked rat (Kyle Michael Kuhlman) and pumpkin does the job as prescribed, although even the magic scenes are lackluster.
In this day and age, the notion that a girl’s beauty is her main asset, and that winning a prince, even a bumbling one, should be her ultimate dream, needs some re-working. Yes, she shows some independence at the end, but it feels like a perfunctory PC nod to feminism. “Oh, yes, you wore the gown, and were so beautiful, and you won the prize – a rich husband! What? You’ve decided to travel around the world and want him to come along? My, what a headstrong young thing you are!”
It’s all just …OK. The dialogue doesn’t sparkle, the characters aren’t interesting, and many attempts at humor are either flat or go over the kids’ heads. There was also some problem with the sound at the performance I attended, as people sounded tinny and, during songs, lyrics were often hard to hear over the music.
As for the set: Cinderella’s cottage is sweet, but the palace is an enormous disappointment. In going for a simple Art Deco black-and-white motif, the result is a palace that looks like a coloring book that hasn’t been filled in yet. Where is the dazzle? A creative use of lighting? This is a FAIRY TALE; it’s supposed to be magical! When you see the palace, you should gasp in awe, not think, “Oh. OK.” With the exception of some of the ball costumes (and the drag sisters), everything is drab; the prince is in army dress greens, Cinderella is in bland colors (I know she’s in rags; but can’t she have colorful patches on her clothes?); visually, the show needs some punch, and the sad part is that it’s these kinds of shows that should be a creative dream: colorful and rich and arresting. And fun!
I hate writing such a negative review of a kids’ show, but parents will shell out good money for this, and I can’t advise them to spend it on something that just isn’t all that great. I watched the kids in the audience, and there was a lot of talking and leg bouncing, and the kid next to me was scrunched down and sullen. Not that every child will appreciate live theater, but when your target audience is kids and you lose a lot of their attention, it’s time to let Fairy Godmother take a crack at that script.
Cinderella continues through January 6th at at Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut (map), with performances Saturdays and Sundays at 10am; some Thursdays, Friday, and Mondays – see calendar for specific showtimes. Tickets are $16-$22, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at EmeraldCityTheatre.com. (Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Tom McGrath
Tommy Bullington (Grace); Jennifer T. Grubb (Godmother); Missy Karle (Cinderella); Mark Kosten (Temperance); Kyle Michael Kuhlman (Ratford); Corey L. Mills (Wesley); Blake Reddick (Prince Jason); Heather Townsend (Stepmother)
behind the scenes
Ernie Nolan (director, choreographer); Marta Johnson (music director); Robert Groth, Jenniffer Thusing (co-scenic designers); Jeff Glass (lighting designer); Nathan R. Rohrer (costume designer); Christian Gero (sound designer); D.J. Reed (props master); Dan Lazar (production designer); Navi Afshar (production stage manager); Crosstown Scenic (set construction); Leslie Cobb (asst. stage manager); Katie Goldberg (asst. costume designer); Devon Mary Doherty (asst. director); Tom McGrath (photos)