Theatre review: Cinderella – smile-inducing production passes the ultimate kid test

I must admit going in I wasn’t expecting a great deal from what could be described as the ultimate kid-friendly musical.  But with all the gloomy headlines these days, I kept telling myself that an evening of pure escapism is probably just what was needed.  And that is exactly what I got from Capliano University’s Exit 22 Theatre, in a smile-inducing production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

cinderella-prince

Originally written for television in 1957, this Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein show will probably be best remembered by today’s audiences from the 1997 Disney re-make starring Brandy and which this stage version is also based.  And while Exit 22 can’t match the Disney machine (and money), there was still plenty of fun, and not a little magic, to be had in this timeless classic.

Led by final year Capliano University Musical Theatre students Ranae Miller and Cameron Dunster (pictured right in a photo by Damon Calderwood) as Cinderella and the Prince, this duo are proof that the CapU program is turning out some real talent. Another stand-out in this cast of 30+ cast was Meggie McKinon as one of the ugly step-sisters whose wild hair and silly walk was indicative of this production’s biggest strength: the careful detail in individual characterizations.

With such a large cast, it is easy for the ensemble to blend into the background, relegated to rushing in every so often to help move the story forward or to provide the back-up for the bigger show numbers.  Here though, Director Gillian Barber has worked hard with her large cast to ensure no one is a wallflower, giving everyone an opportunity to develop his or her own unique character.

Case in point are the tap-dancing chefs (Javia Selina, Stephanie Liatopoulous, Erin Walker, Lena Dabrusin, and Maya Meron) who are variably pregnant, blind and so full of individual personality that at times I found myself quickly moving from one to the other in the hopes of not missing a thing.  This quintet though was not the only ones who brought a real sense of character to their roles, as each of the ensemble breathed life into their smaller roles.

Even with obvious budget constraints, Exit 22 still managed plenty of theatrical magic.  Drew Facey and Jill White’s turntable set gave easy transitions to keep the story moving and Cinderella’s transformation from scullery maid to princess was accomplished by a combination of clever set pieces and even cleverer costume changes from designer Barbara Gregusova.

Musical director Kevin Michael Cripps does a great job with his orchestra, “magically playing from a room behind the theatre” according to the program.  Cripps has obviously worked hard with this large cast but while the ensemble singing is very tight I did find it somewhat hesitant which was surprising and in total contrast to the brazen individuality of the characters.  Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt does some nice work with the limited space and the large numbers.

Of course, the definitive test of any kid-friendly musical is in keeping the young ones engaged enough to get them through two hours of singing and dancing.  This production appears to have passed that test with flying colours as the row of youngsters behind us sat quietly and watched with fascination as happily ever after became a reality.

3 Out of 5 Stars Cinderella

Music by Richard Rodgers.  Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.  Directed by Gillian Barber.  Musical direction by Kevin Michael Cripps.  A Capilano University Exit 22 production.  On stage at the Capilano University Performing Arts Theatre through March 26, 2011.

Visit http://www.capilanou.ca/exit22 for tickets and information.

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