Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cinderella rocks Centerstage

“Cinderella” an English Panto at Centerstage

reviewed by Alec Clayton
Erin Herrick as Cinderella,
Hilary Heinz as Prince Charming and
Alexandra Blouin as Dandini
Children as young as five or six and adults of all ages are equally enchanted by the English panto or pantomime. I can’t think of any other form of staged entertainment that has such broad appeal.
Like many on this side of the pond I had never heard of the traditional British pantomime until Alan Bryce, who cut his theatrical teeth in London’s famed West End, brought this comedic art form to Centerstage Theatre in Federal Way. The first one I ever saw was “Cinderella” with some of the same actors who grace the stage in this production.
Pantos have no relationship to silent pantomime from which the name is derived. More like circus performances, children’s TV shows and Monty Python, these pantomimes are modern versions of classical fairy tales filled with cross-dressing actors, terrible puns, rocking popular music and lots of audience participation. 
They’re anything but silent.
Alexandra Blouin and
Hilary Heinz
Certain characters and traditions appear in every panto. There’s always a fairy godmother who narrates the story, and one or more hideously ugly “women” (men in outrageous drag), and beautiful women playing men, and there are always local references and topical humor (the prince’s ball, for instance, is a disco ball in Fife).
This latest panto stars the charming Rosalie Hilburn as the Fairy Godmother; the lovely Erin Herrick making her Centerstage debut in the title role; Erik Gratton an Equity actor by way of New York and Los Angeles now living in Seattle in the pivotal role of Buttons, Cinderella’s put-upon friend; Hilary Heinz revisiting her role as Prince Charming; and Roger Curtis, also an Equity actor, and Alan Bryce as the two ugly stepsisters. This is Curtis’s fifth time playing an ugly dame in panto at Centerstage, and he owns the role. It’s Bryce’s first time. He’s the artistic director at Centerstage and a seasoned veteran both on stage and behind the curtain, so camping it up as a woman with big lips is no stretch for him.
The kids in the audience get a huge kick out of the antics on stage and love that they’re called up to play a part and that the actors toss them candy, even if they don’t get the adult jokes, which include pop-culture references and tend to be mildly risqué. And it’s not just the kids who are included in the audience participation. The ugly dames usually pick some innocent man in the audience to flirt with. At Sunday’s matinee that lucky individual was a man in the third row named Doug.
Theater at its best is always magical; the whole transcends the parts. In the case of a fairy tale such as this, the lighting, the music and the costumes combine to create an ethereal atmosphere that transports audience members into a fantasy world. The costumes by Ron Leamon are lavish and beautiful, especially Cinderella’s ball gown and the dashing outfits worn by Prince Charming and his servant, which in keeping with panto tradition show a lot of their long and shapely legs — and the magic pumpkin coach created by Steffon Moody works magic even on this jaded old critic.
Heinz, who played Prince Charming in both the 2007 production of “Cinderella” and in “Sleeping Beauty” at Centerstage, is tall and regal, and she is a commanding presence. When she sings rocking numbers like the finale “Your Love Takes Me Higher,” her rhythm and enthusiasm are infectious. Equally regal is Alexandra Blouin as Prince Charming’s servant Dandini. Plus she has all the great physical moves of a circus clown. The program says she just took a year off from acting to study clowning and physical theater forms at Dell’Arte International in California, and that training shows in this performance.
Herrick, a recent University of Washington graduate making her Centerstage debut, is a fabulous find in the role of Cinderella. She projects a purity and sweetness that endears her to the audience.
The other lead actor who not-so-subtly steals the show every time he’s on stage is Gratton as Buttons, by far the most adorable character on stage. Like Blouin, Gratton has all the moves of a circus clown. And he has an amazingly expressive rubber face. He projects sincere love toward Cinderella and toward all the kids in the audience, and he projects true humility.
Also outstanding are Sam Barker as Cinderella’s father, Baron Hardup, and ensemble actors Katherine Jett and Zack Wheeler. Jett dies hilariously in the opening scene but comes back in various ensemble roles, and Wheeler stands out as an expressive dancer.
The common phrase is musical comedy, and this is definitely both, with David Duvall doing his usual fine job as musical director and pianist, and the comedy provided by writer Paul Hendy, director Vince Brady and the cast. I do recommend this show – enjoy!
Performance times vary through Dec. 23, 3200 SW Dash Point Road,
Federal Way, 253-661-1444, http://www.centerstagetheatre.com
For another take on "Cinderella" read Michael Dresdner's review.

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