🎭👠 What Is It With the UK and Shoes? | “Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella” @ Ahamanson

Matthew Bourne's Cinderella (Ahmanson)Quick: Think of something musical on stage that takes place in the UK, has dance, and is focused on shoes. Got it?

If you said, “Kinky Boots” — no, that was last month, when the tour stopped by the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for a week. Try again.

Perhaps you meant Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, which is currently on-stage at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). That, after all, is musical, although not a Musical. Bourne’s staging does set the story in London during the Blitz, and that’s in the UK. It is Cinderella, so there has to be a shoe involved. Lastly, it is Matthew Bourne (FB)’s New/Adventures (FB) company, meaning it is an updated ballet, and thus dance on stage. The only difference is that this has recorded music, vs. the live musicians at Kinky Boots.

That, and Kinky Boots has a voice. Bourne’s Cinderella is wordless, although it still tells a story, just through a different medium.

We saw Cinderella last night at the Ahmanson, and my reaction was decidedly mixed. It was part of the subscription season, and as such, fulfilled that which a season subscription is supposed to do: expose me to things that I might not go see on my own. I am first and foremost a theatre person: I haven’t really seen other stage forms such as traditional opera, ballet, or modern dance. This version of Cinderella is from the modern ballet world. Bourne’s approach to ballet and dance is to combine a level of theatrical storytelling with the movement. I can appreciate that effort.

But this is also ballet, which has its own conventions and style. Most significantly: it is wordless storytelling. Consider: In theatre and in opera, the story is often told through words (with the exception of the occasional ballet insert). But in ballet, the entire story — exposition, character development, interactions, hopes, desires, fears — that would normally be told through dialogue and song are instead told through movement to a score. If you are coming from a theatrical background, this is something that can be disconcerting.

As a result, I found it difficult to get into the story of Cinderella, and I identify who the myriad of characters were. The dance itself was beautiful, and the dancers were highly skilled, and much emotion was conveyed. But what who did what? I wasn’t always sure. Which of the Pilot’s friends was Tom and which was Dick — I have absolutely no idea. In fact, other than seeing the characters as their “role” (pilot, stepmother, child), I couldn’t tell you who was which name. Although there was theatricality, the notion of conveying more than the gist of the story to the audience was lost.

So what was the story? You get some from the title itself: Cinderella. We all know that classic story: There’s a family with a stepmother, a father who has withdrawn in some way, some stepchildren, and a natural daughter who is treated badly. Invitiation to some form of party arrives, and the family goes off to enjoy themselves. Daughter is left behind in the ashes. Magical creature arrives to save the day and get the girl to the party (presumably to meet the man of her dreams), with one caveat: she only has until midnight. Girl arrives at party in fancy gown, and even her relatives don’t recognize her. She wins the guy, only to rush off at midnight, leaving a shoe. He hunts for the girl. Many pretend. He eventually finds her, and they marry and live happily ever after. Because they always do.

As the poster for the show illustrates, Bourne places his version in London during the Blitz. Cinderella is evidently living with her invalid father, her step-mother, and her step-family in some large house in London. The family consists of two step-sisters, and three step brothers — one of whom is normal, one of whom is fey (in the stereotypical sense), and one of whom is an overgrown child. Yes, they have names, but they are never spoken. An invitation to something arrives, but it is clear that Cinderella isn’t invited. After a bombing, a handsome pilot shows up injured. Cinderella hides him and tends to him, while her family entertains their boy and girl friends. They discover the pilot, and make fun of Cinderella, driving the pilot away. They then head off to the party, leaving Cinderella alone. Cinderella runs away, and the Angel shows up, getting Cinderella an invitation to the party and other magical stuff.

In Act II the party occurs, and we see all the characters having fun. The pilot and his friends show up and start socializing and winning over the girls. Cinderella shows up and the pilot is smitten. Cue loads of romantic dance, with characters trying to break them up. Eventually Cinderella and the Pilot go to his flat, but when midnight comes, she runs away again. She reappears as her drab self as the bombs drop, and she is taken away to hospital.

In the last Act, the Pilot hunts for the girl. He eventually finds her, with predictable results. So does the Stepmother, who tries to kill her, but is eventually carted off to jail. The Pilot and Cinderella marry, and go off to live happily ever after.

You can find a bit more detailed of a synopsis here.

That’s the story, at least as I could figure it out. There were some good comic bits in the background, most involving a servicewoman chasing someone, the overgrown child. There were also some interesting bits involving a gay couple, but in many ways those were both stereotypical and they didn’t fit the period. There was also a nagging #DancersSoWhite problem. Yes, I understand that a majority of ballet dancers are white, but it would have been nice to see a better effort made towards diversity, especially as this was a fantasy story that wasn’t dogmatic about accuracy to the time period mores.

In essence, story-wise, I was … meh. I’m glad I saw it, but it is not a medium that I would go out of my way to see again. It certainly didn’t make me want to go see more of Matthew Bourne’s stuff — and more on why that is important at the end of this all.

Dance-wise, the movement was beautiful. Although I missed how effectively dialogue and songs can concisely move a story along, I did appreciate the dance language to tell the story. It was moving and interesting to watch. I found it enlightening how essentially pantomime can be used to convey the story, with dance for the emotions. However, for two-and-a-half hours (with 2 intermissions), it can be exhausting to translate the visual into story. Although beautiful, it doesn’t make me want to go out of my way to see this style of dance. Theatrical dance, yes. Modern dance, maybe. But this form of ballet … meh.

The dancers were all strong. I’m going to list them here, but it is hard to know who was dancing what, for most roles were multiple cast, but the players board only listed the five principals (💃 indicates who was dancing at our performance):

Because I don’t know who actually was doing what, especially in the minor roles, I can’t complement the minor roles or the ones doing great stuff and movement in the background. So it goes.

This production (alas) used recorded music, playing Cinderella, Op. 87, by Sergei Prokofiev, recorded by the 82 piece Cinderella UK Orchestra at Air Studios, 2010.

Turning to the production and creative credits: The set and costume designs were by Lez Brotherston (FB), and they accurately represented the era well and were suitably creative. Neil Austin‘s lighting design suitably established the mood, and Paul Groothuis‘s sound design took you back to the war-torn UK with its ambient air and bomb sounds. Duncan McLean‘s projections augmented the set design well in establishing place. Other production credits: Etta Murfitt (FB) [Assoc. Artistic Director]; Neil Westmoreland (FB) [Resident Director]; Shae Valley [Production Supervisor]; Nicole Gehring (FB) [Company Manager]; Heather Wilson (FB) [Stage Manager]. Other company information can be found on the New Adventures page.

Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through March 10, 2019. If you are into ballet and dance, by all means go and see it. If you are more the musical theatre type, it could be a good exposure to the world of ballet — but be forwarned — this is not musical theatre and there is no song or spoken story to go with the dance. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson Theatre; discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

***

On the day we saw Cinderella, the Ahmanson announced their 2019-2020 season. We knew about one show (Once on This Island), and I had attempted to predict the rest of the season when the Pantages announced their season. Needless to say, I got it completely wrong. Here’s the Ahmanson season:

  • Latin History for Morons. SEP 5 – OCT 20, 2019. Written and performed by John Leguizamo.
  • The New One.  OCT 23 – NOV 24, 2019. Written and performed by Mike Birbiglia.
  • New Adventures: Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.  DEC 3, 2019 – JAN 5, 2020. Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne.
  • The Last Ship. JAN 14 – FEB 16, 2020. Starring Sting (in all performances). Music and lyrics by Sting.
  • The Book of Mormon.  FEB 18 – MAR 29, 2020. Book, music, and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone
  • Once on This Island.  APR 7 – MAY 10, 2020. Book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens; music by Stephen Flaherty.
  • One show to be announced.

My reaction: Meh. There’s not a lot here for the musical theatre fan: Mormon is in the area regularly, and The Last Ship got poor reviews. One gets the impression that the Ahmanson spent its funds on the current season, and just couldn’t afford to bring in the good stuff. Not a way to keep your subscribers. Certainly not this one. We’ll get single tickets for the shows of interest, but right now this isn’t saying “subscribe” to me.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and the Ahmanson Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Tonight brings the annual MRJ Regional Man of the Year dinner at Temple Beth Hillel. The next weekend brings “Disney’s Silly Symphony” at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). The third weekend of March brings Cats at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). The following weekend is Matilda at  5 Star Theatricals (FB) on Saturday, followed by Ada and the Engine at Theatre Unleashed (FB) (studio/stage) on Sunday. March was to conclude with us back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but that date had to chance so that we could attend the wedding of our daughter’s best friend, who is a wonderful young woman.

April starts with Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op (FB) and the MoTAS Men’s Seder. During the week, we are back at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) for our rescheduled performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The next weekend has a hold for OERM.  April will also bring Fiddler on the Roof at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the annual visit to the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Looking to May, only four shows are currently programmed: Falsettos at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), Les Miserables at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); The Christians at Actors Co-op (FB); and Lea Salonga at the Saroya [nee the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC)] (FB). Because some of those shows are mid-week, two weekends are currently open (but will likely be programmed as press announcements are received). June, as always, is reserved for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

 

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