ALL IN THE FAMILY Bailey, Collins, Kelly, and Maitland in Cinderella.
Shiny and sparkly as it is, the fairy tale Cinderella will always be appealing. Most would say that's because our little girls and boys need hope in a discouraging world; others might suggest that the cruel world needs help teaching girls and boys passivity and wishful thinking, to make them compliant citizens.
The Courthouse Center for the Arts is staging the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version (through November 21), so there's no danger of incivility or thoughtfulness breaking out. Fortunately, this production, directed and staged by Russell M. Maitland, is also very funny, with some irony, but mostly plenty of broad humor and pratfalls.
The story is the straightforward one we know from children's books. Cinderella (Alison Kelly) is the overworked servant in the house of her cruel stepmother (Eliza Collins) and her two mean stepsisters, Portia (Jack Bailey) and Joy (Maitland). With help from her Fairy Godmother (Trudy Miller), she's outfitted to attend a ball at the castle, where she dances with Prince Charming (Adam Cavalieri). They are instantly smitten and thereby entitled to live happily ever after.
This musical is the only one Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote for television, as a 1957 vehicle for Julie Andrews. It accumulated the advantages of having a beloved story, legends-in-their-own-time creators, and a classy sweetheart of a star, who would become legendary herself two years later when R&H's The Sound of Music hit Broadway. So it attracted the biggest audience in TV history to that point — an estimated 60 percent of the American population were watching, no typo, no kidding.
There are enough outlandish characters and slapstick humor to play against the naturalness of Cinderella, conveyed with fetching sweetness by Kelly. There is an overbearing Queen (Christine Treglia) and a good-humored, simpleminded King (Ray Richardson). He has grown so paunchy (addicted to candy bars in this production, one lovingly, enablingly provided by his wife at one point) that he can't get into his pants anymore. His pennypinching nature is sorely tested when he has to pay for a ball and banquet for 1700, so their son can meet every eligible maiden in the country and take his pick.
Cindy's formidable trio of stepmother and stepsisters should be cackling around a cauldron. The mother is a tiny bundle of meanness, played fiercely by Miller. But the drag act duo of the sisters is a delightful contrast: Maitland is lipstick-smeared and blowsy; Bailey is actually quite lovely, perfectly convincing as a woman.
The love-at-first-sight cliché in this tale is handled with useful irony in this production. Any prince will do if he'll get a girl out of the cinders, but here she has to settle for a bit of a klutz, signaled by his frequently tripping over things. Entertainment like this relies more on the performances than on the story itself. To that end, Richardson as the amiable King and Miller as the good-humored Fairy Godmother are especially enjoyable in their roles, both charming us with personality.