Pictured: Ensemble members from the National Tour of CINDERELLA. Photo courtesy of Starlight Theatre.
By Abigail Trabue
As a little girl, I dreamed of being Cinderella — of growing up to find my Prince and spending my days in giant ballgowns that sparkled and twirled. I loved twirling in a big skirt. And while my version of what it means to be a Cinderella has certainly changed as an adult, the nostalgia of my childhood remains, and it was with thoughts of days gone by that I headed to Starlight for the opening night of the national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA.
I was also very curious to see how this revival, with a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, gives us a stronger modern day princess, not to mention I had been talking up the magic of it all to my seven-year-old, especially that moment when things go from “impossible” to “it’s possible.” I can’t say either impressed me all that much.
The storyline is certainly altered, and our modern day Cinderella, or “Ella,” isn’t as meek and mild as we’ve known her to be, but she isn’t much of anything else either. She has strong opinions, but they are formed by others around her. Beane’s book feels like it can’t decide between being a progressive retelling of a beloved story, or a safe rewrite of the original, so it does neither. Nothing about this story makes me care about Cinderella and Prince Topher.
And unfortunately, the production itself lacks the finesse needed to pull off the “impossible.” Certainly, allowances can be made for a tour coming into a house like Starlight. There’s not a whole lot of theatrical magic tricks happening when the sun is still shining brightly rendering your stage lights pretty useless. You’re more exposed than you would normally be, and perhaps that is something Starlight needs to take into consideration as they look towards future seasons. To have a show like CINDERELLA — which needs as much theater magic as it can muster in the first act — perform in the daylight is tough. I’m sure by the closing night of this short run they’ll have that dress transformation down, but that does little for those of us who were there on opening.
Now, with that said, there are some fine things happening on stage, especially on the choreography front. The male ensemble is comprised of some incredibly talented dancers, and the choreography reflects the level of technique they had to work with. This predominately young cast is vocally solid, but they are working so hard. There’s an underlying sense of eagerness and showmanship happening, signs that no one feels grounded, so they mask it with a lot of unmotivated blocking and musical theater stage pictures. I get it. I’ve been there. It’s tough to work through and tough to watch.
For the hundreds of little princesses in the audience, and for my own little prince sitting next to me, I wanted something more. At the end of the day we can change the script all we want, but when we finally see these two lovers come together, supposedly as equals, the Prince, staged in a position of power, looks down on Cinderella and sings “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?” At that moment all our progressive desires fly right out the window. Instead, we are left with the beauty of Cinderella determining her worth. A fact that our young girls face every day, one that any modern day princess should be looking to dispell, and one that this revival came so close to achieving, but ultimately found too impossible to make happen.
CINDERELLA runs through July 1st at Starlight Theatre. For more information visit kcstarlight.com.