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BWW Review: Ragtag Theatre Company's THE COMMEDIA CINDERELLA Mixes Lessons with Laughs

Natasha Nightingale.
Photo by Dennis Corsi.

Helmed by Sam LaFrage, the Ragtag Theatre Company is back. Following their rip-roaring THE COMMEDIA RAPUNZEL, the talented troupe is tickling ribs with their latest concoction: THE COMMEDIA CINDERELLA. Billed as LGBTQ theatre designed for the entire family, this show puts a refreshing and much appreciated new spin on the timeless fairytale, finding a way to speak to the individual heart of every member of the audience.

Written by LaFrage and directed by Dennis Corsi and LaFrage, THE COMMEDIA CINDERLLA is filled with whimsy and laughs. Using the Commedia dell'Arte style of theater, the entire cast is able to create vibrant characters that ham it up through both scripted and improvised moments. With freedom to experiment and no semblance of a fourth wall in place, the audience is also part of the show.

L to R: Jason Hurtado, Andy Dispensa,
Natasha Nightingale, Billie Aken-Tyers,
and Sam LaFrage.
Photo by Dennis Corsi.

For audiences who saw RAPUNZEL, they'll recognize La Frage's jester-like Arlecchio, Natasha Nightingale's porcelain doll inspired Columbina, Andy Dispensa's aged and somewhat miserly Panatlone, Billie Aken-Tyers' brash Rosetta, and Jason Hurtado's daffy Pulcinella. At the performance I attended, Adrian Rifat played Zanni, the hunchbacked oddball with a giant heart. Each of these characters' quirks are celebrated in the performance, and their strengths are used to decide who plays whom in their telling of Cinderlla. Instantly, the message that the Ragtag Theatre Company sends to the audience is to embrace what makes you different and unique. This perfectly reinforces their #BeWeird mantra.

Obviously, Nightingale's Columbina is assigned the role of Cinderella. She plays the part with gusto, and (like she did as Rapunzel) sends the audience home with a delightfully feminist message at the end of the show. Aken-Tyers' Rosetta is assigned the role of the evil stepmother, who she rewrites as a menacing Southern lady, giving the audience much to laugh at as she chews the scenery with precision. Dispensa's Panatlone narrates the production and steps in as the prince, earning laughter as he deftly switches from rickety old man to a suave, charming youth. Rifat's picked on and mildly abused Zanni earns the favor of the audience by being a hardworking stage manager who never stops trying to ensure everyone is happy.

L to R: Sam LaFrage & Jason Hurtado.
Photo by Dennis Corsi.

Hurtado's Pulcinella is cast as one of the evil stepsisters and LaFrage's Arlecchio gladly takes on all the other female roles in the show. As the stepsisters, Hurtado and LaFrage keep the audience tittering and giggling with their mean girl antics voiced through nasal lisps (Think Jimmy Fallon's "Ew!" segments). Moreover, LaFrage's fairy godmother is inspired by Xanadu, and her rolling skating shtick lands perfectly. Then, Hurtado, LaFrage, Dispensa, and Aken-Tyers' all fill in as Cinderella's animal friends, giving this often effervescing trope an awkward spin that keeps the audience chortling.

With all the colorful zaniness happening on stage, it is easy for members of the audience, both young and old, to become fully absorbed in the hilarity of the performance. And, through the power of laughter the impactful social messages of the piece are easy to digest. If just one girl who defies gender stereotypes is empowered by Columbina telling the audience that it is okay to not be girly all the time and it is okay to never be girly, or if just one boy sees LaFrage's sparkly, purple finger nails and learns that boys can pretty if they want to be, then Ragtag Theatre Company's THE COMMEDIA CINDERELLA can be counted as a success. If anyone in the audience leaves the theater feeling uplifted and embraces their unique character traits, then the show has done its job.

For a family-friendly good time and 75 minutes of hearty laughter, catch THE COMMEDIA CINDERLLA at SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam St, New York, NY 10013). The show runs Saturdays at 11:00 am through July 16, 2016. For tickets and more information, please visit http://thecommediarapunzel.com or http://www.sohoplayhouse.com. Also, be sure to follow the Ragtag Theatre Company on Facebook and Twitter.


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From This Author David Clarke