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Review: RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA at Village Theatre

Review: RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA at Village Theatre

A fun, family show, sadly not executed well.

Review: RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA at Village Theatre
Ays Garcia and James Schilling
in Village Theatre's Cinderella.
Photo credit: Angela Sterling.

"Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella" is an enduring classic for a reason. Sure, it's family friendly and has a worldwide recognizable name, but in addition to it's wonderful songs, it's shown to be amazingly adaptable based on the production. From the original telecast versions in the 50's and 60's that took a more fairy tale, traditional telling, to the updated Whitney Houston and Brandy Norwood version in the 90's that leaned into the comedy along with updated orchestrations. Not to mention many, many stage revivals. With songs from the original sometimes cut and songs from other R&H shows being added in, this classic is certainly a living and growing thing. The current production from Village Theatre tries to emulate that 1997 version. And while I love that version, this production failed in committing to which story it wanted to tell and ended up being a mish-mash of potentially good ideas never fully realized.

You know the story. Cinderella (Ays Garcia) is a kind, young woman who has lost her mother and father and is now treated as a servant by her cruel stepmother (Anne Allgood) and her two daughters Grace and Joy (Carly Corey and Mia Mooko). When the King and Queen (Brandon O'Neill and Candice Donehoo) throw a ball for their son Prince Christopher (James Schilling) in order to have him find someone to marry, the Stepmother thinks it a perfect opportunity to marry off one of her daughters but forbids Cinderella from attending. Her dreams crushed, Cinderella wishes that she could go to the ball and in pops a Fairy Godmother (Cassi Q Kohl) to help make her wish come true.

From the beginning, the direction and staging from director Desdemona Chiang is clunky at best. Bad sight lines and people meandering aimlessly about the stage leads to a tone of chaos. When the dance numbers actually kick in from choreographer Katy Tabb, things get a little better but even there it feels like they're trying to do too much with too many people on too small a stage. And the utterly uninspiring and nonfunctional (on the night I saw it) set from Lauren Nichols and Arnel Sancianco and the oddly unmagical lighting design from Andrew D. Smith, complete with people wandering into dark areas of the stage, did not help this lack of flow in the show at all. Truly the only piece that really worked were the fantastic costumes from Chelsea Cook. But as "The Lion King" has taught us, a bunch of cool costumes do not a good show make.

Review: RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA at Village Theatre
Cassi Q Kohl in Village Theatre's Cinderella.
Photo credit: Angela Sterling

But it's this lack of commitment to what kind of show they wanted to tell that truly killed it. They wanted to be edgy and contemporary, but do it in such an afterthought of a way that it all feels tacked on and apologetic to the original story. They gave the Fairy Godmother a kind of hip, and sparkly androgenous suit and had her lecture Cinderella how wishes don't make things better and how she's a smart, capable woman and can manage things for herself. But then Garcia doesn't play her as smart or capable but more of an absent minded klutz. Even when she enters the ball, she just kind of wanders around, for entirely too long with nothing going on, until she bumps into people and falls on the floor in front of the Prince. And while that could be a "meet cute" it doesn't read as Garcia and Schilling have absolutely no chemistry together. By the end, the marriage felt like more of a convenient arrangement to get her out of an abusive house and him married off than anything.

Just so many bad choices throughout. "The Stepsister's Lament", a usually fun song, starts off as it should with Corey and Mooko killing it, but then other ensemble people join in on the song for some reason. Making it "The Stepsister's and some rando's Lament". Kohl has some fine moments as the uber cool Godmother but then undercuts that cool by doing these weird contortions at the top of her song showing her aversion to words like "wish" and "dream". Both Garcia and Schilling have decent voices but only really shine when they let go and commit. Really the most engaging characters who truly committed to the roles were Allgood, Corey, and Mooko as the villains of the piece. Plus the wonderful ensemble who brought some life and connection to an otherwise dull world.

I wish I could recommend this for a wonderful holiday outing, and I wanted it to be good, but with its questionable choices and bad pacing even the kids in the audience around me were bored. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Village Theatre's production of "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella" an all over the place and disappointed MEH-. As this show tried to tell us, wishes are one thing, but wishing to put up an updated version of a classic isn't enough. You need the vision, the commitment, and the follow through. Three things this production lacked.

"Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella" performs at Village Theatre in Issaquah through December 23rd before moving to their Everett location running January 6th through the 29th. For tickets or information, visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


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