Brains trump beauty in Cinderella, now playing at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, where every December another familiar fairy tale gets a fun musical makeover. This year’s installment features a philosophy-loving heroine (exceptional homegrown talent Brooke Rucidlo) who calls her critter sidekicks Plato, Socrates and Aristotle (a toad, spider and crow, respectively; no cute rodents in this intellectual menagerie) while dividing her days between books and chores.
Too shy to dance and indifferent to fashion, this Cinderella actually has to get talked into attending the palace ball — she’d rather stay home and read — by Gwendolyn the Well-Wisher (Annie Fitzpatrick), a dotty intercessor who seems a few fairy-dust sprinkles short of Godmother status (“I just give people advice and then I wish them well”).
This nudge of encouragement is, as it turns out, all it takes for Cinderella and her Prince (the strong-voiced William Selnick) to find each other — well, that and two pairs of horn-rimmed spectacles with the same powerful prescription.
Instead of a glass slipper, the shoe that fits in Joe McDonough’s clever script (with songs by Fitz Patton and David Kisor) is a pink high-top Chuck Taylor, though don’t ask how such a sneaker might manage to fall off during even the most frantic midnight escape. As for the wicked stepmother, Brunhilda, Pamela Myers (pictured on the right with Rucidlo) delights as every orphan’s worst nightmare.
No doubt working under a tight budget, director D. Lynn Myers and her design team have staged Cinderella simply; the look of the show is downright spare. Viewers expecting more spectacle, especially after the operatic lushness of last year’s botanically themed Sleeping Beauty or 2008’s madcap Alice in Wonderland, will have to remember this musical’s motto: “The essence of true beauty lies beyond what’s seen by normal eyes.”
In 2010, cheap looks pretty smart.
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