Following its couldn’t-be-better production of Little Shop Of Horrors, Cabrillo Music Theatre now stages a show for children and parents alike in Rodgers And Hammerstein’s Cinderella.  Kids will love seeing one of their favorite fairy tales brought to musical comedy life, and those above the age of ten will relish R&H’s music and lyrics, the cast’s all-around terrific performances, and seeing 1970s TV icons Marcia Wallace as Cinderella’s stepmother and Sally Struthers as her fairy Godmother. Though Rodgers And Hammerstein’s Cinderella may lack the sophistication and unified tone of Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, a great cast and Lewis Wilkenfeld’s savvy direction make for an enjoyable two hours of family entertainment.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella began, of course, as a 1957 TV production starring Julie Andrews. That original CBS TV special led to a pair of remakes as well as this popular stage adaptation, one which clearly needs no synopsizing. 

Cabrillo’s production introduces UCLA students Melissa Mitchell (Class of ’11) as Cinderella and Derek Klena (Class of ‘13) as her dream prince, and both are performers we’re likely to be hearing about for years to come. Mitchell combines prettiness, perkiness, and spunk as the future Mrs. Prince Charming, and you won’t find a more all-American handsome (and indeed charming) Prince than Klena’s. The pair are considerably more than just teen idol looks and charm, however, evidenced the moment they raise their gorgeous voices in song.  Mitchell solos “In My Own Little Corner” and together they duet “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” the duo’s great chemistry not surprising for performers who’ve known each other since they first shared the musical theater stage back in their elementary school days.

As the dotty King, Norman Large executes an amusing 180-degree turn from his recent MTW appearance as Sweeney Todd, and the lovely Christina Saffran Ashford lends grace and her exquisite soprano to the role of his Queen.  “Boys And Girls Like You And Me,” originally written for Oklahoma! but cut before the show’s Broadway debut, offers Large and Ashford a chance to show off their beautiful Broadway pipes.  Ann Myers and Dana Shaw couldn’t be more gleefully funny as stepsisters Portia and Joy, mugging to perfection and duetting the hilarious “Stepsisters’ Lament.” As the Herald (actually the first of two Heralds), Chris Caron shows off a splendid voice in “The Prince Is Giving A Ball.” Justin Jones (the Chef), Ryan Ruge (the Steward), and David Gilchrist (the Minister) make fine cameo appearances. 

Adding their ‘70s TV star power (and considerable comedic chops) to the cast of Cinderella are Struthers from All In The Family and her fellow CBS alumna Marcia Wallace from The Bob Newhart Show. Struthers lends her inimitable stage presence not only to the Fairy Godmother, but to a surprise second role in the Act Two as well. This encore appearance temporarily sidetracks Cinderella for about ten minutes of vaudeville-style schtick, with Struthers riffing on budget cut-related furloughs and the South African vuvuzela (of World Cup fame), and a verbal interchange with Klena’s Prince that recalls Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s On First?”—not perhaps what Rodgers & Hammerstein had in mind when they wrote Cinderella, but hilarious as all get-out.  The equally one-of-a-kind Wallace gets laughs galore as the stepmother, none louder than when she expresses a need for “a good pounding,” a remark which whooshes right over the heads of the kids in the audience but hits its adult target smack in the bull’s eye.

Choreographer Heather Castillo has staged some imaginative waltzes and gavottes, executed with flair by the show’s talented ensemble—Andrew Allen, Jebbel Arce, Kayla Bailey, Michael Brown, Tyler Matthew Burk, Drew Foronda, Jennifer Foster, Gari Geiselman, Tessa Grady, Justin Jones, Nathan Large, Jessie Lee, Noelle Marion, Tyler Olshansky, Madison Parks, Melissa Danielle Riner, Daniel Rosales, Christanne Rowader, Natalie Sardonia, Karen Staitman, Matthew Stewart, Kurt Tocci, and Estevan Valdes. 



Completing the cast are eleven adorable children: Alexandria Collins, Gabi Ditto, Joah Ditto, Natalie Esposito, Griffin Giboney, Max Kennedy, Lyrissa Leininger, Quinn Martin, Reno Selmser, Erin Ticktin, and Anthony Valdez.

Steven Smith’s musical direction is as impeccable as Lloyd Cooper’s conducting of the Cabrillo Music Theatre’s outstanding seventeen-piece orchestra. Voices and musical instruments are blended to perfection by sound designer Jonathan Burke, who adds some amusing sound effects to the mix.

The production looks as great as it sounds, its fairy tale sets provided by Theatre Under The Stars, Houston, Texas, masterfully lit by lighting designer Jean-Yves Tessier. Equally good-looking are the show’s elegant costumes, designed by Delmar Rinehart Jr., provided by Music Theatre Of Wichita, and supervised for CMT by Christine Gibson. Thumbs up go also to Adam Bezark (transformational special effects), Anna Grijalva (prop design), John W. Calder III (production stage manager), Allie Roy and Taylor Ruge (assistant stage managers), Brad Enlow (technical director), Char Brister (crew captain). Paul Hadobas has supervised the cast’s excellent hair and makeup design (though it would have been nice if the production had found a pair of wigs to match Cinderella’s post-transformation hair color to its original shade).

Rodgers And Hammerstein’s Cinderella concludes Cabrillo Music Theatre’s 2009-10 season on an enjoyable family note, and the 2010-11 season opens in October with the equally family-friendly Happy Days. Kudos to CMT’s President/CEO Carole W. Nussbaum and Artistic Director Wilkenfeld, who have once again merged their expertise to create one of the finest and most deservedly successful CLOs the Southland has to offer.

Cabrillo Music Theatre, Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Thousand Oaks.

–Steven Stanley
July 23, 2010
                                                                                         Photos: Ed Krieger

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