Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Theater review

Hip Cinderella seems like a strange dream

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Here's something you don't see everyday - a production of Cinderella in which the Fairy Godmother, as embodied by Eartha Kitt, is as scary as the Wicked Stepmother.

        Bizarre is the only word for this wanna-be hip take on the Rodgers & Hammerstein show, which is continuing for two weeks at the Aronoff as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series. You can't help wondering what director Gabriel Barre had for dinner before he went to bed and dreamed up this concept.

        Actually, Ms. Kitt is only as scary as an average Wicked Stepmother. Everett Quinton is the scariest Wicked Stepmother I have ever seen, chilling in his indifferent cruelty. It's a wonderful performance — on opening night, he actually set small children to crying.

        As for the happily-ever-afterables, Debbie Gibson and Paolo Montalban are pretty and bland as Cinderella and her prince. They croon show tunes as if they were bubblegum pop.

        One of the show's great disadvantages is that, originally written as a 90-minute TV special, it's been padded into a two-act stage show not with fresh musical material but with reprise after reprise after reprise.

        This Cinderella is made contemporary with a lot of jive talkin' from the African-American king (Ken Prymus), courtier-about-town Lionel (Victor Trent Cook)and hefty, loudmouthed stepsister Grace (NaTasha Yvette Williams), all playing out black stereotypes.

        And what could choreographer Ken Roberson have been thinking? Mr. Roberson has consistently done wonderful work at Playhouse in the Park (with shows like Thunder Knocking on the Door and Spunk) and in New York.

        Here he has the villagers performing a sort of medieval hip-hop and the Fairy Godmother's big number at the end of the first act (Cinderella is transformed into the belle of the ball to “Impossible“) is accented by hopping and floor touches. Why? Because Ms. Kitt, a stunningly spry septogenarian, can?

        One charming effect are the puppet mice, cat and dove (which looks more like a nightingale) who keep our heroine company around the hearth.

        Of local note, CCM grad Lyn Philistine stepped into the role of obnoxious stepsister Joy to good effect and sported a perfectly piercing giggle/snort.

        Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, through March 4, Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series, Aronoff Center for the Arts Procter & Gamble Hall. 241-7469.


Enquirer interview with Paavo Jarvi
- Theater review
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