This isn’t your 1950s Cinderella. Not when the wicked stepmother snaps at her family that they are teetering between upper middle class and lower upper class. Not when the heroine talks about income inequality on the first date with the prince. Not when a new character is a peasant rebel preaching land reform who sounds as if he wandered in from a “Les Miserables” production across the street.
Yes, the new version of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” which Children’s Musical Theaterworks landed the rights to produce before any other non-professional company in the country, is an updating of the classic tale.
CMT offers an ambitious staging of the musical – a rewrite of the original 1957 live TV version – which debuted on Broadway in 2013. At the opening-night performance I saw featuring the “Fol-de-rol” cast, I enjoyed some good singing, a slick scenic design (by Victoria Robinson) and wonderful costumes (by Trina Short). In the first scene, a tall giant (cleverly on stilts) almost steals the show.
I don’t write traditional reviews of CMT musicals (except for my thoughts on the adult creative team) because I don’t think it’s my place to critique in a negative way young performers in a learning environment, and I don’t have time to see each of the two casts perform.
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But I’d like to acknowledge a few standouts from the cast that I do see. Kelly Gresham, as Cinderella, has a lovely voice, and she brings to such tunes as “In My Own Little Corner” a pure, sweet tone. Daniel LaJune is a personable Prince Topher. Leif Bramer, as the rebel Jean-Michel, offers sturdy vocals. For comic timing, Grace Lucido is a kick as the stepsister Charlotte (and impressively belts out one of my favorite songs, “Stepsister’s Lament”).
And Taylor Mosher, as the mysterious Marie, blends standout acting, singing and a charismatic stage presence into a memorable performance.
Daniel Rodriguez’s direction is crisp, particularly in the ensemble crowd scenes, but not as much in the comic moments among the principals. Nicholle Debbas and Michael Dumas offer spirited choreography, and it’s a treat to hear a full orchestra (conducted by Randall Cornelison) featuring students from University High School.
In years past, CMT has struggled with sound issues, and I was impressed with Dan Aldape’s sound design. Even with a live orchestra, I could hear just about every lyric. Adalpe’s lighting design is adequate, but the execution of that design is this “Cinderella’s” biggest struggle. A number of missed cues on opening night – including missing a chance to highlight one of Cinderella’s amazing costume transformations – was distracting.
I also, try as I might, often found myself gritting my teeth at the contemporary spin put on the traditional story by Douglas Carter Beane in his new book for the revival. The updated gender politics are welcome, and it’s fun to see Cinderella as a strong woman. But the earnestness with which the progressive economic message is preached gets overwrought and tiresome.
This incarnation of “Cinderella” tries too hard. I found myself longing for a little more old-fashioned charm.
For the hard-working cast and crew at CMT, however, the show is a big endeavor with some impressive results. To look at it this way, it’s definitely a glass slipper more than half full.
- 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15; 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16
- Fresno Memorial Auditorium, 2425 Fresno St.
- $14-22, $10 children
- www.cmtworks.org, (866) 973-9610