When & Where December 14 - 31, 2023; 7:30pm evenings with 1pm matinees | Gateway Theatre, 6500 Gilbert Road, Richmond
Director Johnna Wright Music Director Sean Bayntun Choreography Nicol Spinola Set & Props Design Jennifer Stewart & Sophie Tang Lighting Design Sophie Tang Costume Design Alaia Hamer Sound Design Darren John Stage Manager Philomena Sondergaard
Ella Ali Watson Topher Kamyar Pazandeh Madame Lossen Chambers Lord Pinkleton Ryan Maschke Sebastian Tainui Kuru
Reviewer John Jane
The single sheet theatre program informs us of Oscar Hammerstein II being the author of the “original book.” However, long before the American lyricist created his 1957 version of Cinderella primarily for television, late seventeenth century writer Charles Perrault took a Greek folk tale and introduced the pumpkin, the fairy-godmother and glass slippers into the story, thus making Cendrillon a fairy tale.
The new book by Douglas Carter Beane brings the story to a modern sentimentality. Beane’s incarnation is certainly more political and definitely more progressive. Prince Charming (in this new version he is known simply as Topher) realizes that listening to the common folk is more important than listening to corrupt advisers. Cinderella (or Ella) has already learned that altruism will usually triumph over cynicism and self assurance will persevere over negativity.
Sure, it’s still a love story, and the man has most of the power, but there is a noticeable shift in the balance of the protagonist couple’s eventual relationship. Beane and director Johnna Wright have wisely retained the magic of the pumpkin, the fairy-godmother and a glass slipper that miraculously only fits one foot. The comedy is mostly physical – it is a holiday show after all.
As the title character, Burnaby actor Ali Watson seems an unlikely heroine, but her natural comic timing, confidence and a no-nonsense performance soon endears her to the audience, not to mention that she has a terrific voice. Kamyar Pazandeh as an unpretentious Prince Topher (short for Christopher) exudes a certain charm – even though never actually referred to as “Charming.” He and Watson display wonderful on-stage chemistry, despite not seen together that much.
Among the supporting performances, Tainui Kuru is remarkably droll as Sebastian, the comically corrupt court official. Ryan Maschke seemed to be having way too much fun as town crier Pinkleton. Lossen Chambers is delightfully camp as Madame, Cinderella’s misunderstood stepmother. Ben Brown acquits himself reasonably well in the role of a maladroit activist Jean-Michel, considering the character would seem to belong to a different story.
I really enjoyed watching Danica Kobayashi and Sarah Cantuba as Cinderella’s step-sisters, Gabrielle and Charlotte respectively. They manage to advance from the pantomime characters of some previous productions and allow for a sincere sisterhood with Cinderella. Ms. Kobayashi also takes on the responsibility of the show’s dance captain and Ms. Cantuba leads the female cast members in the second act opening song “Stepsister’s Lament.”
Nicol Spinola’s elegant choreography is effortlessly performed by a talented ensemble. Alaia Hamer’s sumptuous costumes must have consumed a large chunk of the production budget. Particularly impressive, is the magical transformation of Cinderella and her godmother’s (Caitriona Murphy) rags to opulent gowns.
Jennifer Stewart and Sophie Tang combine to create a functional single set that utilizes basic moving pieces as needed. The scenic design also provides for a paneled box that reveals Cinderella’s kitchen as the narrative requires.
This high quality Gateway Theatre production offers a new take on a timeless story. I’m sure that the magic will have you smiling long after you leave the theatre.
© 2023 John Jane