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. [Read more…]

42nd Street: in the right neighbourhood, but not at the exact address

Paige Fraser and Blake Sartin dance in the Theatre Under the Stars production of 42nd Street.

At its best, the TUTS production of 42nd Street is ecstatic. (Photo of Paige Fraser and Blake Sartin by Lindsay Elliott)

Yes, 42ndStreet will give you goosebumps—it gave me goosebumps—but that’s because it’s manipulating the heck out of you.

In the book, which was written by Michael Stewart and Michael Bramble, it’s 1933. Peggy Sawyer, who has just stepped off the bus from Allentown, Pennsylvania, races in—late—to audition for the new musical Pretty Lady. The chorus parts have all been cast, but gosh Peggy is talented! And she’s so pretty! And nice! And Billy Lawlor, the juvenile lead, already wants to date her! Does Peggy stand a chance of making it into Pretty Lady? Would she be crazy to dream—holy tap shoes!—of Broadway stardom? Guess.

There’s nothing wrong with clichés per se; I’m big fan of camp. But there is something wrong with predictability and 42ndStreet carries a heavy load of that. There is only one surprising plot turn in the book. It’s a good one, but it’s not enough.

To give material like this any chance of success, you’ve got to make sure that its surfaces are all polished to a blinding gleam: that the pace never relents, that the production numbers are dazzling, and that the stock characters are brought to life by prodigiously charismatic performers.

Under Robert McQueen’s direction, this Theatre Under the Stars production comes surprisingly close to getting a lot of this right—especially considering that it’s a largely amateur undertaking. [Read more…]

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