Saturday, May 4, 2013

REVIEW: NWCT's World Premier of NEW Non-Traditional "Cinderella" Musical a Toe Tapper

The following bonus review is offered in celebration of NWCT's 20th Season and as a critique of the premier of a new telling of the classic tale.

Grab your tap shoes and get ready for a unique re-telling of this classic tale presented in the classic musical style. Inspired by the Broadway of Cole Porter and George Gershwin, this story of a girl, a gown, and a glass slipper will keep your toes tapping ‘til the stroke of midnight. 

This original adaptation of Cinderella marks the close of Northwest Children’s Theater’s 20th Anniversary Season, and is NWCT’s second world premiere this year. It is also NWCT’s first major tap musical since 2004’s "Crazy for You." This fast-paced, comedic update on the fairy tale focuses on self-empowerment, following your dreams, and dancing your way to a new kind of happily-ever-after.

In other words, take just about everything you know about "Cinderella" and throw it out of the pumpkin coach window. Gone is the element of magic, the rags to riches tale and the glass slipper. Now bring in an empowered servant girl and a prince who only want to dance and "put on a show," a French storyteller, a fairy godmother who is a dance instructor and a tap shoe. In fact, throw in a LOT of tap shoes. Yes, this is very different from what you know.

The Cast

Cinderella features an ensemble cast of NWCT all-stars. Making her fourth appearance on the Mainstage, Sophie MacKay as Cinderella trades in her glass slipper for a pair of tap shoes. NWCT student and parkour-enthusiast Martin Tebo “puts on a show” as Prince Bobby, the reluctant royal who “just wants to dance!” His horrified parents, the Queen and King, are played by veteran performers Melody Bridges and Erik James (in his 50th Mainstage performance).

Resident Artist John Ellingson leads us through the story as Armando, the page, and Elizabeth Gibbs delivers comedic relief as Cinderella’s ‘ballet mistress’ of a fairy godmother.

MacKay is quite good at everything and the rest of the cast ain't bad, but it is Ellington who both carries and steals the show. He is quite the entertainer. Though I felt Tebo was a bit weak in his role, it was the other character roles--Cinderella's step family who were lackluster and melodramatic, and the King and Queen who were nicely played with great comedy--that put him in the middle. James, as the King, though a seasoned actor, was certainly not a song and dance man, but I enjoyed him very much.

The Craft

The production is well done, the tap dancing very nice (though the large group numbers lacked precision), the music very good and the costumes elaborate. The pace is perfect, but the show still lacks some of the zest of other NWCT productions. The musical telling needs more book, but what it does have does two things: provide a good dose of humor and serve to transition from one song and dance to another.

The 70 minute production moves almost too fast with little for the "actors" do but sing and dance. It just needs more of something. Perhaps with more dialogue and greater hand at the stage directing would have pushed the performance to what it should have been.

Director/Choreographer Sarah Jane Hardy's strong suit is in the dance and not in the "business." I'm not saying it was bad, for it was quite good and over all I liked the uniqueness of the experience, it just needed more.

The micing was flawless (again, showing it can be done). The set, though virtually unchanging and simplistic was pretty and the lighting well executed. There were a couple of songs that did nothing to move the plot along. Although it was a good song Rejection Can Be So Sweet seemed out of place. However, I loved the musical numbers as a whole.

The Creator

Cinderella springs to life from the imagination of Ezra Weiss, who wrote the script, music, and lyrics. Weiss, an internationally acclaimed jazz composer and pianist, was recently listed in the 2012 DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll. In addition to numerous albums as a band leader, Weiss wrote music and lyrics for NWCT’s "Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" and Alice in Wonderland (named one of the “Top 10 Cast Albums of 2009” by

In creating the finished play, Weiss drew inspiration from the works of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Rogers and Hart. Weiss was offered the project by director Sarah Jane Hardy with the charge to create a Cinderella who was strong and empowered.

“I said to myself, ‘What if Ethel Merman were going to play Cinderella?’” says Weiss, “This is the first show I’ve written since becoming a parent, and I didn’t want to propagate the myth of the helpless girl needing a handsome and wealthy prince to come save her.”

Remaining shows are 12 p.m., May 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26; 4 p.m., May 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26; and 7 p.m., May 10, 17, and 24. Tickets run from $18 to $22. The NWCT auditorium is located at 1819 NW Everett St., Suite 216, Portland, Ore. Phone: 503-222-4480.

Review by Gregory E. Zschomler
All photographs and video provided.

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