Cinderella couldn’t be better

Cinderella (Mallory James) and Tré Cotton (Topher) embrace in Cinderella at Theatre Under the Stars.

Mallory James and Tré Cotten help us to reimagine Cinderella and her Prince.

It’s perfect. I’ve never seen a more seamlessly well-produced show at Theatre Under the Stars.

The musical itself isn’t the greatest, although it’s friendly and serviceable. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote Cinderella for television in 1957—when it starred the newly discovered Julie Andrews—and the score is pleasant but forgettable. Douglas Carter Beane has done an excellent job of updating Hammerstein’s book, however, taking direct aim at the story’s sexism and classism. This Cinderella doesn’t passively lose a slipper at the ball, she darn well places it there. And that ball is held for familiar political reasons. Sensing discontent among the abused peasantry, Sebastien, the Prince’s corrupt regent, suggests a distraction: a royal wedding. It works like a dream, he says. Every time.

Under Sarah Rodgers’s direction, this production strikes the perfect combination of sincerity and drollery, and that’s never more true than in Tré Cotten’s irresistible performance as the Prince. Topher, as His Majesty is known, slays giants and dragons, but, when his courtiers sing, “He’s our hero!”, he shrugs amiably and says, “Stop!” Cotten is so relaxed and so generous in this role that you can’t help but love Topher. Bonus: Cotten possesses an easy, velvety voice and he tosses off some stylin’ ornamentations.

Everybody in the whole damn cast is spot-on. They can all act and they can all sing. Mallory James inhabits every inch of Ella’s (Cinderella’s) pragmatism and wit—and loans the character her clear soprano. Michael Wild, who plays Sebastien, and Caitlin Clugston (Madame, aka the wicked stepmother) are hilariously arch. Clugston puts just the right spin on one of my favourite lines: “Why is there a pumpkin on the table? It makes no design sense!”

Cinderella’s half siblings aren’t referred to as her ugly stepsisters in this version. (There are good reasons for this choice—#sexism—so let’s not fall into the trap of calling it PC.) One of the stepsisters, Charlotte, is an entitled dope. And Gabrielle is Cinderella’s secret ally. Director Rodgers must have created a safe rehearsal space because Amanda Lourenco (Charlotte) and Vanessa Merenda (Gabrielle) both deliver rapturously large—and expertly contoured—comic performances.

Laura Cowan is grace itself as Marie, the fairy godmother. Caleb Lagayan shows off a knockout, almost operatic tenor as Lord Pinkleton, a courtier. And Daniel Curalli finds just the right amount of wit to leaven the earnestness of a revolutionary named Jean-Michel.

Now let’s talk about the costumes. Jesus H! Designer Christina Sinosich has outdone herself. Madame wears an emerald green dress to the ball; it’s spangled with tiny flowers and it looks like it was designed by Gustav fricking Klimt. And Sinosich and Rodgers are doing a beautiful thing: they’re acknowledging the diversity of the company. Because Lagayan (Pinkleton) is Filipino Canadian, he gets to wear an array of those fabulous see-through shirts.  And Cotten is African American, so Topher works those long tunics called kurtas. At the ball, Topher’s black-and-white kurta makes a handsome complement to the frothy fifties ballgowns all of the women are wearing.

Brian Ball’s set is a minimalist dream: two big clock faces and just enough elements to indicate locations—stylized gold trees for the forest, Escher-like stairs for the palace, and so on.

Nicol Spinola’s choreography is like a combination of ballet and cotton candy. I loved its joyful elegance, including the movement of the two horses (Kyle McCloy and Connor Briggs) that pull Ella’s carriage to the ball.

And there’s one more thing I’ve got to tell you about. When Topher and Ella marry, they jump over a broom, which is a reference to slave weddings in North America. Did the joy and complexity of that moment make me weep? Yes. Yes it did.

CINDERELLA Music by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. New book by Douglas Carter Beane. Original book by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Sarah Rodgers. A Theatre Under the Stars production at Malkin Bowl on Thursday, July 19. Continues in rep until August 18. 

Tickets.

NEVER MISS A REVIEW: To get links to my reviews plus the best of international theatre coverage, sign up for FRESH SHEET, my free weekly e-newsletter.

And, if you want to keep independent criticism alive in Vancouver, check out my Patreon page. Newspapers are dying and arts journalism is often the first thing they cut. Fight back!

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

Comments

  1. Alison Stewart says:

    Best review ever, I can’t wait to see it!

  2. Tre Cotten is kicking ass in this show all while battling cancer. He is an inspiration and an amazing individual!!

Leave a Reply

Sign up—free!—

YEAH, THIS IS ANNOYING. But my theatre newsletter is fun!

Sign up and get curated international coverage + local reviews every Thursday!