DECEMBER 2023 | Volume 234
Lossen Chambers, Sarah Cantuba, Ali Watson, Danica Kobayashi. Photo by David Cooper.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics and original book by Oscar Hammerstein II
New book by Douglas Carter Beane
Gateway Theatre, Richmond
www.gatewaytheatre.com or 604-270-1812
For its holiday show, its first full production of the 2023-24 season, Gateway Theatre has gone for the feel-good story of Cinderella. First produced for television in 1957, this Rodgers & Hammerstein musical was re-scripted in 2013 by Douglas Carter Beane to give it a more colloquial 21st century feel.
For those of us raised on the fairy tale or Disney’s 1950 animated movie, this Cinderella is refreshingly modern and funny. The music and songs are not up there with the best of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but an attractive, energetic young cast and some rousing musical numbers make this production a holiday winner.
Kamyar Pazandeh, who has become one of the region’s premiere musical theatre guys, plays goofy, handsome Prince Topher, and delightful Ali Watson is Ella. Watson’s Ella is no sad-sack victim like traditional Cinderellas, but a tough, resilient young woman who shrugs off the abuse of her step-mother Madame (Lossen Chambers) and pretty much does what she wants with the help of her earthy fairy godmother, Marie (Caitriona Murphy).
Madame’s daughters, Gabrielle (Danica Kobayashi) and Charlotte (Sarah Cantuba), vie for the Prince’s hand at his ball and beyond. Cantuba’s bratty, sulky, narcissistic Charlotte is a comic standout. More sensible Gabrielle eventually falls for political reformer Jean-Michel (Ben Brown), who protests the kingdom’s socio-economic injustices. Take that, Disney!
Director Johnna Wright gives us some memorable moments thanks to costume designer Alaia Hamer’s magical dresses that turn peasant Marie into the Fairy Godmother and Ella’s work clothes into a beautiful ball gown. Another highlight is the transformation of raccoon and squirrel puppets into Ella’s footmen, with acrobatic energy from two male ensemble members (Darian Ngai and Jaren Guerreiro, I think).
The ensemble works really well, especially in the song and dance numbers—kudos to choreographer Nicol Spinola and music director Sean Bayntun’s seven-piece orchestra.These kids can really dance. Unfortunately, some extremely muddy mics kept me from making out nearly everything Madame and Marie and a couple of other characters were singing or saying.Gateway has scheduled only a couple more fully staged shows this season. I look forward to the company’s return to a fuller season of drama, comedy and musicals … next year, I hope.
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