Statistics and Suspension of Disbelief

Cinderella has always bothered me.

I mean, I can suspend disbelief about the whole fairy godmother thing. I’m cool with the pumpkin turning into the coach, the mice into coachmen, some birds into valets, and rags into a beautiful outfit. But why, oh why, don’t the shoes change back at midnight like everything else. And to make it worse, the shoe being used as a form of unique identification? C’mon now. I only need 57 people to have a 99% probability of them having the same birthday, and there are 365 possible birthdays in a year. But shoe sizes? Going to woman’s shoes, and there are what… if I’m generous and include ½ sizes, women’s shoe sizes go from 2 to 16, there are perhaps 29 sizes. Hmmm, like a month. As for widths, there are perhaps 10: A, B, C, D, E, EE, EEE, EEEE, F, and G (like shoemakers in Cinderella’s day made all the widths). So we’re looking at around 300 permutations of shoes. If you’re birthday won’t uniquely identify you, then shoes certainly wouldn’t. Not to mention, of course, if it’s larger than your foot, you’ll just claim it fits. Thus Cinderella’s foot must have been on the tiny size, because we know the stepsister’s had to cut their feet to get them to fit. So the shoes, which didn’t transform, as a form of unique ID? No. The prince just had a foot fetish, and planted that shoe to distract his parent’s from that fact.

Then there’s the whole message thing in Cinderella. Sure, I can suspend my disbelief about the magic, but now you’re trying to convince me that it is only inner beauty that matters; that outward appearance means nothing? Sure that’s what the Fairy Godmother says, but she must be smoking something. If that was the case, then the Prince would have seen the beauty in the stepsisters. But (as Steve Martin would say) noooooo… He goes for the beautiful Cinderella. C’mon, even supermodels look good in rags. So here we now have a prince, who expressed no interest in girls until his parents held a fancy dance, who claims to find a girl he likes at the dance and that she left a shoe, who then goes around the city touching the feet of every girl until he finds a beautiful girl of the lowest social standing, and then he tells his parents he wants to marry this beard girl. He was just distracting his parents from the reality. Even the US Military would see through this one.

So why am I riffing on Cinderella? If you hadn’t guessed it by now, we went to Cabrillo Music Theatre last night to see their production of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella”. Cinderella is one of R&H’s later productions, coming on the heels of two of of their few flops, Me and Juliet and Pipe Dream, and just before Flower Drum Song. It is the only R&H musical done directly for TV (it was first broadcast in 1957), and was later adapted for the stage. As such, it actually has few complete new songs, but lots of reprises and musical underscoring. The songs aren’t distributed evenly across acts (the first act has 13 and the second has just 4); and many of them are evocative (or some might argue duplicative) of other R&H songs. And everything, and I mean everything, seems to be a waltz.

What Cinderella should have going for it is the family friendly aspects. It should draw whole families into the theatre and sell the tickets, getting the kiddies into the seats and introducing them to theatre. This is what the Cabrillo summer production always does: “Cats”, “Singin’ in the Rain”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Music Man”, “The Wizard of Oz”. That this production did, although not to the extent of past summers: we still had a mostly empty balcony, with almost daily exhortation about cheap mezzanine seats.

So let’s suspend our disbelief about the weakness of the book and of the artistic selection of the show. That’s something we can’t change. How did Cabrillo do with the show? There, the statistics are born out: even with a weak show, Cabrillo does a great job. The performances and production win you over.

Let’s start with the stunt casting first, although this appeared to be more for the parents than the kids. In this show, the name players were Marcia Wallaceæ (famous from The Bob Newhart Show and The Simpsons) and Sally Struthersæ (famous from All In The Family, Gilmore Girls, and numerous other shows). I’ll note that Struthers got a nice writeup in the LA Stage Blog. Wallace played the wicked Stepmother (are there any other kinds?), and Struthers the Fairy Godmother. Both did good with these small roles, putting their comic timing and expressions to good use. Struthers was particularly funny in the second act as Harold the Herald, but you could see her repeating some of the Gloria mannerisms. I enjoyed her bit with Portia’s creeky knee—especially the “Oklahoma” reference. Both were tolerable on the singing, but these aren’t the major singing roles.

The true leads of the show were a pair of lesser-knowns: Melissa Mitchell as Cinderella and Derek Klena as the Prince. Klena has perhaps the best claim to notariety, having been on American Idol. Both were excellent singers, and Mitchell in particular was a strong actress. Klena had moments where he broke out of the wooden straightjacket that is the prince’s role. They were fun to watch.

Of course, this being Rodgers and Hammerstein and in the traditional musical model, there had to be comic secondary couples. In this case, the first couple was Norman Largeæ as the King and Christina Saffran Ashfordæ. They had great chemistry together, which doesn’t come as a surprise as they appear to regularly tour together. Large, in particular, was quite good as the harried King, and Ashford was fun as the dominating wife. The second couple were the “ugly” stepsisters: Ann Myers as Portia and Dana Shaw as Joy. Both were great comic actresses (although admittedly I kept imagining Rain Pryor from Sisterella). Again, not large singing roles, but that’s due to the weak book.

Rounding out the cast were Chris Caron (the Herald); Justin Jones (the Chef); Ryan Ruge (the Steward), and David Gilchrist (the Minister). The ensemble consisted of Andrew Allen, Jebbel Arce, Kayla Bailey, Michael Brown, Tyler Matthew Burk, Chris Caron, Drew Foronda, Jennifer Foster, Gari Geiselman, David Gilchrist, Tessa Grady, Justin Jones, Nathan Large, Jessie Lee, Noelle Marion, Tyler Olshansky, Madison Parks, Melissa Danielle Riner, Daniel Rosales, Christanne Rowader, Ryan Ruge, Natalie Sardonia, Karen Staitman, Matthew Stewart, Kurt Tocci, and Estavan Valdes. The children’s ensemble was Alexandria Collins, Gabi Ditto, Joah Ditto, Natalie Esposito, Griffin Giboney, Max Kennedy, Lyrissa Leininger, Quinn Martin, Reno Selmser, Erin Ticktin, and Anthony Valdez.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Turning to the technical side: The sets were provided by Theatre Under The Stars in Houston TX (I’m guessing the economy has Cabrillo renting as opposed to building sets) and were… and were… they did the job well. Not spectacular, but not shabby either. Lighting was by Jean-Yves Tessier and had some pretty gobos and effects, but suffered from the usual Cabrillo follow-spot problem. The sound, by resident sound designer Jonathan Burke was clear and crisp with no glitches. The wardrobe was supervised by Christine Gibson using costumes from the Musical Theatre of Wichita, with hair and makeup by Paul Hadobas. Both are Cabrillo regulars. The prop designer was Anna Grulva.

[ETA: I also must mentioned the splended technical transformation special effects of Adam J. Bezark, who used black lighting quite effectively to handle the transformation of Cinderella’s pumpkin and mice, as well as the return transformation. Quite stunning.]

The production was directed by Lewis Wilkenfeld, and choreographed by Heather Castillo. Steven Smith was Musical Director, and the orchestra was conducted by Lloyd Cooper. I should note the Orchestra was quite large—17 players. This was refreshing in these days of single-digit bands. John W. Calder III was Production Stage Manager (alas, dear youarebonfante is off working a cruise), with Allie Roy and Taylor Ruge as assistant stage managers.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” continues at Cabrillo for one more weekend, until August 1. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or the Civic Arts Plaza Box Office. I’m sure they are also available through Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.

Dining Notes: Last night, we tried Pacific Fresh Grill at 2060 E Avenida de Los Arboles. I think we’ll do it again, although my MIL didn’t like her spinach salad. My grilled Salmon was excellent, and the other dishes looked quite good. You can see their menu at Sporq.

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. Today it is time for blood and gore with a touch of comedy, as we see “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Mark Taper Forum. August starts with “Young Frankenstein” at the Pantages on August 1. The next weekend brings [title of show] at the Celebration Theatre on August 6. August 15 brings the August “Meeting of Minds”, and August 21 “Side Man” at REP East. Looking into September, there is “Free Man of Color” at the Colony on September 4, and “Leap of Faith” at the Ahmanson Theatre (September 5-October 17, to be ticketed), and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at REP East (9/17-10/16). It is unknown if there will be a September “Meeting of Minds”, and if so, when and where. October will bring “Happy Days: The Musical” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, and possibly “The Glass Menagerie” at the Mark Taper Forum.

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.