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Oh You Pretty Things: Cinderella's relations glam it up in Shakespeare Santa Cruz's resurrected favorite.

Cinderella Syndrome

Shakespeare Santa Cruz's resurrected production of the children's classic is magical but flawed

By Rob Pratt

Fans of Shakespeare Santa Cruz's annual holiday productions have had only hindsight to judge Cinderella as the very best of the company's original children's shows. Until now. Debuted in 1999, Cinderella inaugurated several seasons of winning original retellings of fairy tales penned by Kate Hawley and set to music by notable theatrical composers. All were delightful works of theater suffused with color, comedy and witty wordplay, but none managed to outdo Cinderella in charm and poise.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz's new production of Cinderella retains many of the original's delights and offers some new ones--chiefly an orchestration that adds violin and electric bass to the original's trumpet, two keyboards and drums. Hawley's crafty script and Gregg Coffin's smart and appealing score still inspire magical moments even in a production flawed by poor vocal performances.

The highlights are almost all musical numbers. Coffin's melodies manage not simply to set Hawley's puns and tricky rhymes to music but also to put them into musical phrases that capture the emotional nuance between the lines. Coffin works his magic with sly references to Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber and (not so slyly) Cy Coleman. Terry Barto's choreography ingeniously provides motion and vibrancy to song-and-dance numbers without making athletic demands on the cast.

Unfortunately, few in the otherwise very talented professional and student cast seem equal to Coffin's melodies. The cast performs admirably during ensemble songs, but in solos and duets, pitch problems abound, as do problems with projection. (Norman Kern's ineffective sound design does little to help.)

One of Shakespeare Santa Cruz's exceptionally talented young performers, Elise Youssef, sings beautifully in a ballad Cinderella's mother delivers from beyond the grave. Doubling as Cinderella's fairy godmother, Youssef also turns in an adorably comic, magnetic performance in sending her charge off to the Prince's ball amid a shower of fairy dust at the end of Act 1.

Joseph Ribeiro reprises his role as Mrs. Baden-Rotten, the wicked stepmother, with a great deal of glee showing between scowls. Mike Ryan, perennially the sidekick or fool in Shakespeare Santa Cruz's holiday shows, returns as Buttons, Cinderella's one true friend. His softshoe routine with a dancing bear (Ruthie Holmes) earns some of the show's biggest laughs. Mark Thomas' Prince Charming is downright cuddly, a dopey-but-sincere Pooh bear of a fellow who no doubt could break the hearts of scullery maids all across the kingdom.

All in all, the production looks good. B. Modern's costumes pair tasteful togs on royals and peasants with wickedly loud designs for Mrs. Baden-Rotten and her bratty stepdaughters. The costumes alone are worth a few laughs. Dipu Gupta's scenic design makes good use of pink-cloud imagery, though his forest set, with tall-tree cutouts flown in upstage and painted sky blue with pink clouds, at times reads like drywall newly taped and stuccoed before painting.

Shakespeare Santa Cruz's Cinderella. Through Dec. 18 on the Mainstage, Theater Arts Center, UCSC. Shows start Wednesdays at 7pm (except Nov. 23), Thursdays at 7pm (except Nov. 24), Fridays at 7pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 6pm. Tickets are $18-32, available by calling 831.459.2159 or visiting www.shakespearesantacruz.com.

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From the November 23-30, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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