— In theater, timing is everything.
Casa Mañana Children’s Theatre is displaying some superb timing by presenting its production of Cinderella at a time when the Disney film version of the story is booming at the box office — something the theater could not have possibly foreseen when they scheduled this production.
But this Cinderella is not that Cinderella. Nor is it the Rodgers and Hammerstein version that had a Broadway run in 2013, and which is now in the second year of a national tour that will include stops here and in Dallas in June. And it is certainly not Rossini’s opera, Cenerentola.
Instead, this is a yet another musical based on the classic fairy tale, carrying the expanded title of Cinderella: The Tale of the Glass Slipper. It features a book, lyrics and music by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, a team that has an impressive track record of composing first-rate stage shows for young audiences. Even standing in the shadows of those other giants, this one stands on its own quite nicely.
There is no need to discuss the plot. You know how it goes and this version does not offer any shocking changes.
The only thing you need to know additionally is that this production, directed by Casa’s director of children’s theater and education Noah Putterman, has a super cast. Cinderella (Alyssa Robbins) and her Prince (Zak Reynolds) make an extremely handsome couple. Because they are portrayed by veteran thespians Greg Dulcie and David Coffee, the ugly stepsisters could not have possibly ever been uglier than they are in this production.
Also contributing superior work is Brandon Shreve as Putterman T. Rat (the T stands for “The”), who is Cinderella’s BBF. Shreve does a fine job with the character, and his name provides one of the funniest (unintentional) jokes in the show. It is pure coincidence that the rat’s first name and the director’s last name are the same. This production did not give the rodent that name as a sly, inside grin. That is his name in the script.
Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, the most humorously written character in the show, is played with genuine comic zeal by Morgan Mabry Mason.
About the only performance that might be questioned is Cara Statham Serber’s turn as Cinderella’s horrible stepmother. The actress is so lovely in voice and appearance that it makes it difficult to hate her as we should. You will seldom see a performer take total possession of a stage as smoothly and effortlessly as Serber.
All of these highly experienced and skilled players do outstanding work with both their singing and acting. Although the score lacks a big, show-stopping number, it is filled with songs that both move the show forward and appeal on their own merits to some degree.
The structure of the script, which is built with quick, short scenes, is also ideal for young audiences. The only times the storytelling falters is when attempts are made at audience participation. That device is usually perfect for children’s theater. But, perhaps because of the nature of this story, the efforts to make the youngsters join in seem forced, and they fall flat.
Also making this production soar are Tammy Spencer’s wonderful costume designs, which range from the ridiculous (the stepsisters) to the sublime (Cinderella at the ball). Robbins’ on-stage costume change into her ball gown is a dazzling bit of clever theater magic.
Ryan Wineinger’s set design, however, is a mixed bag. The dominant aspect of the set is a high wall with doors and panels that allow other set pieces to be moved in and out. It works exceedingly well in the first act, and it teases us with the promise of how it will morph into the ballroom in act two. But that promise is not fulfilled. When it comes time for the ballroom to make its entrance, we get a set of stairs. There is nothing else to suggest the grandeur we expect of the location where Cinderella throws a shoe.
But, on the whole, this is a highly satisfying Cinderella for moms and daughters . It has tons of fabulous acting and singing and, in the end, the transparent shoe fits.