Princesses

Cinderella in Beverly and Ogunquit, Martha Mitchell Calling in Lenox
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  August 29, 2006


PRETTY BUT INSIPID: NSMT puts a lid on this Cinderella.
Cinderella has been making her way around New England stages, and whether she had fairy or gold dust in her eyes depended on where you caught up with her. The North Shore Music Theatre presents an old-fashioned Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (through September 10) in which no one upstages R&H, not even the balletic ballroom choreography or the pumpkin coach that looks like a vegetable version of one of those lit-up lawn reindeer. Ogunquit Playhouse played host to a Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (closed) in which attitude chest-butted platitude — and the stepsisters chest-butted each other. Doubtless they took their cue from the script, which was based on the 1997 Brandy/Whitney Houston TV movie rather than on the swoonier 1957 and 1965 editions that starred Julie Andrews and Lesley Ann Warren respectively, as well as from their mom, Cinderella’s heartless stepmother, who was portrayed by that Fagan of the Gold Dust Orphans, Boston favorite Ryan Landry. Mugging and flouncing in Day-Glo drag, he uttered a most uncharacteristic mantra: “Restraint above all else.” But if it was Landry who wrapped his wide mouth around the words, the maxim was paid more than puffed-lip service in Beverly, where Cinderella is a formal if romantic affair.

Of course, NSMT would hope for a cooler trip into the fairy tale than it took last year, when a fire that broke out after hours on Cinderella’s opening night shut the venue down for three months and halted the production. This re-up gives all the little girls who dreamed of attending the show in fairy-princess garb (somehow they never choose Cinderella’s scullery duds) another opportunity, and they’re grabbing it. My favorite little patron was about four years old and wore gauzy pink organza with flip-flops. They weren’t even glass flip-flops.

But to the show on stage, which director Charles Repole milks for its music, optimism, and emotional truth more than for its humor and magic. Even Maureen Brennan’s pep-talking fairy godmother is more sensible than supernatural — though the diminutive adviser does pull a trick or two when no one’s looking. “This is not a campy production,” Repole writes in his program note, and ain’t that the truth? This director wouldn’t cast Landry as a rat waiting for his chance to become a footman, much less as a mean six-foot woman with a red hairdo somewhere between Lucy Ricardo’s and a dead cat.

The result, alas, is pretty but a little insipid. There is Karen Azenberg’s choreography, redolent with lifts and dips, and there are Joanna E. Murphy’s lovely, color-coordinated costumes for prince, princess, and ensemble. Rodgers and Hammerstein supply songs soaringly melodic (“Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”), snappy (“The Prince Is Giving a Ball”), or infectiously inspirational (“It’s Possible”). And they are nicely sung by Deborah Lew’s dewy Cinderella, Ryan Silverman’s Ken doll of a Prince Christopher, and Brennan’s mischievous, no-nonsense Fairy Godmother. (Terry Burrell’s Queen Constantina, on the other hand, is a bit wobbly.) But there is such a lid on this production that even Lisa McMillan’s big-haired Marian Seldes of a Stepmother and her two daughters, Joyce Chittick’s addled little Joy and Natalie Joy Johnson’s speech-impedimented Portia, seem constrained — though the latter two fume capably through the surefire “Stepsisters’ Lament.”

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