Glass slipper half full

Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is fun but not fresh

INDENTURED DYSFUNCTION Poor Cinderella (Trisha Hopkins), always on her knees to serve her evil step-family, (from left) Minerva (Jill Miller), the stepmother (Drenia Acosta) and Calliope (Dominique Worden).

INDENTURED DYSFUNCTION Poor Cinderella (Trisha Hopkins), always on her knees to serve her evil step-family, (from left) Minerva (Jill Miller), the stepmother (Drenia Acosta) and Calliope (Dominique Worden).

Photo By Tom Angel

Chico Theater Company’s current production of Rodger and Hammerstein’s version of Cinderella is a reminder that mounting a classic fairy tale as a stage musical is a challenging thing, and keeping things fresh by avoiding the temptation to play the show like a Disney cartoon is at the top of the list of challenges.

Directed by William Schneider and featuring veteran performers Drenia Acosta as the Stepmother, Mario Magana as Prime Minister Lionel (aide to Harv Holtz and Sally Mendez, the King and Queen, respectively), and Pam Thornton as the Fairy Godmother, the show has many elements that are quite entertaining.

It’s visually pleasant, with attractive actors in lovely bright costumes, designed by the director and Christine Westman of Christine’s Needle and Thread. The props were also nice—I especially liked the flower cart used for the opening scene.

The set, also designed by the director, had an interesting layout, with alternating panels of wall from left to right that represented the palace indoors, with sections of the house where Cinderella and the step-family live. Center stage was a staircase used in both locales, followed by another panel for the inside of the house and a final panel downstage right that was the outside of a house in the village.

There were some very funny scenes as well, particularly between the Stepmother, played with ruthless tyranny (she made one little girl in the audience cry, asking her mother in a loud whisper: “Why is that lady so mean?") and vampy style by Acosta, and the wicked stepsisters, the whiny, fidgety, blond and bitchy duo, Calliope (Dominique Worden) and Minerva (Jill Miller). And I especially enjoyed the song “Falling in Love,” in which Acosta sings with operatic gusto about her experience with love as a younger woman, which her daughters mock, complete with “gag me” expressions and funny asides, as Cinderella (Trisha Hopkins) listens and looks on with sweet sympathy.

Also a hoot was Magana as Lionel, with his excellent comic timing. He is the devil’s advocate incarnate when he exclaims to the Queen, regarding the search for a bride for Prince Christopher (Sean Ridgway), “If he wants to be happy, then why should he get married?” The day after the ball, Lionel leads the Prince in the search through the kingdom for the foot to fit the glass slipper, resulting in one of the cleverest bits in the show, with bare legs popping out of doorways all over. Then, the two head into the audience to try some more feet, house lights come up, and delighted (and maybe frightened) little girls dressed like princesses are asked to have their turns trying on the slipper.

While the production had some bright moments, there were also a couple of spots where the execution was lacking.

On her first entrance, Pam Thornton as the Fairy Godmother floats in on a cloud of smoke, coughing and laughing in a bright, sparkly way, as she waves away her own smoke effect. This bit was quite funny the first time, but it got a little tired when it was repeated exactly each time she reappeared. Fortunately, Thornton’s lush voice and vibrant sky-blue costume, as well as her ditzy, motherly charm, allowed her to get away with the part like the diva that she is.

Also, while Cinderella and the Prince, Hopkins and Ridgway, looked nice together and sang passably well, I kept waiting for some real spark to leap between them. Hopkins had some nice moments here and there; I especially enjoyed her port-au-bras in her solo moments, when she made the most of some simple choreography by Shelley Rhode, an ensemble cast member. However, there wasn’t much character development or even real change experienced by either one at any point in the show. Perhaps I am asking too much, but I wanted to see more thought and struggle, and less waltzing, from these two.

Overall, the little girls in the audience seemed to really enjoy the show, and the patrons all left with smiles on their faces. Although at times the production fell into the sticky trap of sugar-coated songs that lacked much substance, it might be that pretty distractions are just what the doctor is ordering for you.