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One needs only scan the cast list on this year's presentation of Raleigh Little Theatre's Cinderella to know what to expect onstage once the lights come up. When you see that the two stepsisters of Cinderella are to be played by men, you know something's up. When you realize that these two are RLT's favorite drag comics, then you know what's coming. Though not the only long-running holiday tale spoof in town, RLT's Cinderella, more than anything else, is played for laughs.
And why not? This is a children's show, after all, and the very best way to keep the young ones engaged is to keep them laughing. There is a little something in each scene to give the kids something to laugh at: a rather myopic King Darling (TJ Rogers); a Fran Drescher-like Stepmama (Elizabeth M. Quesada); a pair of the ugliest (and meanest) stepsisters you could find, Gertrude (M. Dennis Poole) and Henrietta (Dr. Timothy Cherry); and, RLT even adds a little something as an…err...aid to the Fairy Godmother, a pair of nutty assistants to the good lady who are just silly (Chelsea Cullen and Miranda Millang-Valdivia)!
For the parents to enjoy, there are magnificent costumes, a delightful chorus, plenty of dancing, and, of course, a love story. But this year's new director, Mike McGee, adds some touches of his own. There's magic, in some places done with such finesse that even an old stage hand like me couldn't figure out exactly how it was done.
The music is provided by a six-piece orchestra led by musical director Joanna Li. Costumes earn a big round of applause for Vicki Olson. And the romantic leads, the only two characters who are played absolutely straight, are Lauren Knott as Cinderella and Christian Mucci as Prince Charming.
There is even a good bit of audience participation. During the ball, the Fairy Godmother (Lauren Bamford) befuddles the sisters by making them sneeze every time they try to dance. In order to protect herself from Mama's wrath, Henrietta says she is sneezing because it's a new dance, "The Sneeze Polka" (showcasing choreography by Jess Barbour). King Darling has the whole audience join in as the dance is created onstage. Later, as Prince Charming goes about the kingdom having every woman try on the glass slipper, one of the Fairy Helpers uses a camera to film the Prince as he goes into the audience to have women trying on the shoe, which is projected onto a huge screen onstage so we can all see it. One departing patron after the show said it was her favorite part of the show.
Cinderella has been a Christmas mainstay at RLT for a number of years now, created by Jim Eiler and Jeanne Bargy. Additional music has been written in by Haskell Fitz-Simons and Nancy Rich ("At Christmas All Be Merry"), and by Joanna Li ("Best of All" and a new version of "What's to Become of Me?").* The entire show runs a fleet 90 minutes without intermission, with a total of 21 songs. Over the years, much has been added to enrich the performance, including some very fancy lighting effects, a shadow board to introduce the Fairy Godmother, and some very nice special effects created to make that wand of hers magical. All in all, this show has grown, both in complexity and in audience enjoyment, for a number of years, especially if you have children. But even if you don't and you want to see a lark of a musical for Christmas, you can't go wrong with RLT's Cinderella.
Cinderella continues through Sunday, December 16. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.
*The theatre submitted the following amplifying information: "This year's production features original music and lyrics, written by Joanna Li: Prologue, What's to Become of Me, King Darling, King Darling Reprise, Best of All, Best of All Reprise." (Updated 12/7/18.)