Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your box office.
Consider Cinderella at Northern Kentucky University, an inventive take on a familiar show (the Rodgers and Hammerstein version) that’s quickly selling out. Director Ken Jones and company have taken a simple, timeworn stage scheme and run with it, adding a trio of cute rodent clowns, a full repertoire of eccentric line readings and gestures, endless gags and, yes, a giant pest-ensnarement device set center stage as this tuneful, two-hour fairytale unfolds. That’s a lot of musical theatre cheese and not all of it works (as the fine print says, patent pending). But give Jones, his creative designers and energetic student cast props for experimenting.
NKU senior Elizabeth Sunderhaus makes a lovely and likable Cinderella, a fearless daydreamer, friend to mice and a “normal” foil to the grotesque cartoons of stepmother and stepsisters (Robyn Novak, Cindy Head and Ruth Kennedy, in fright wigs and seizure-inducing outfits).
Vocally, Sunderhaus needs more breath support to match the strong tenor of Bradford B. Frost’s Prince — she sounded half-winded on opening night — but there’s no shortage of vigor in the rest of the performances, from Sara Kenny’s “strange sort of Godmother” (purple bouffant, bipolar tendencies) to Spenser Smith’s hysterical Herald. Over the top? These portrayals are veritable Rube Goldberg machines of theatrical excess, but they’re fun. Mostly.
Jamey Strawn conducts an able pit orchestra, capturing the uncomplicated romance of Rodgers’ score, pacing the numbers well and maintaining a proper balance with the onstage singers. If only the rest of the show had that sense of proportion: in both comic and dramatic terms, Jones and his cast often seem to be forcing size 10 feet into the dainty glass slipper of this material.
Still, it’s Cinderella. And it does the job.
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