(or The Glass Slipper)
by Irina Brook and Anna Brownsted
Directed by Irina Brook
Shakespeare & Company
There must have been some rollicking, free-association orgies when Irina Brook and Anna Brownsted and their actors were creating Cindy Bella. This play with music is their reworking of the Cinderella story by way of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Max Sennett, Puccini, basic story–telling, Disneyland, Grimm Brothers, ’50s juke box, pop-star Prince, and a philosopher with fairy dust, finger cymbals, and a magician’s hat.
It’s for adults and precocious children. I think.
Most of its fun arrives when time periods, cultures, traditions go careening up against each other like some sort of molecular process that makes a little chemical bump and a little audience frisson, if not an altogether new substance. Sometimes it’s a gas, à la Frank Sinatra as well as the stuff that propels your automobile.
Occasionally (when the cast members start wading through the audience, for instance) you may think you have wandered into a Saturday morning performance of the 5th grade at Lincoln Elementary School. Then they hit you with some especially witty dialogue or one of Brook’s sparkling gems of visual humor.
The role of Cindy is rather thankless, but they do give her a nice bump at the end, when, after a typical scene of self-effacing “ingénuism,” she grabs her accordion and exits with the prince shouting, “Bye guys!”
There are lots of moments like that. I especially enjoyed the one in which the storybook prince returns to the palace to tell palace security they must focus all monitors on the grounds in search of a fleeing girl with a missing shoe.
A couple of gorgeous babes play the “ugly” sisters. They screech a lot. You know how directors sometimes tell actors, “Go ahead. Take it over the top. I’ll bring you back, if it’s too much.” Brook forgot to bring them back. A relentless forte soon delivers small return.
In contrast is the Alidora of Renée Margaret Speltz. With giant eyes, doughy cheeks, and delicate word clarity, she creates the philosopher-fairy-godmother-eastern mystic-moralizer-fake beggar woman in a sweet mezzo piano. Too bad she was stuck up on the underused catwalk for such a long time conducting actors changing the set.
Though Benjamin Luxon is well-cast as Don Magnifico (father of the babes), his second act is too breathless and his aria too long for this production.
Best of all were a couple of leading men, both of whom grasp the art of full-blown and understated comedy, along with the necessity for thoroughly grounding it in reality. As the prince’s chauffeur (who switches place with his boss, the real prince) David Joseph is yummy. He was probably meant to reference the “Prince” of pop fame, but that Prince, on his best day, was never as smooth-moving, sexy, and subtle as David Joseph. The story’s real prince was played by Scott Renzoni, and by the time he was through with us, we all wanted to marry him.
The set, with a row of costumes on hangers strewn across the back, is disappointing; but the costumer (wardrobe mistress Kara D. Midlam?) really gets it, often providing witty, incongruous ensembles. One nice costume moment occurs when the philosopher-fairy-godmother-eastern mystic-moralizer-fake beggar woman places her magician’s hat on Cindy (an unlikely complement to her ball gown), giving her wisdom and magic. Or does she give her neat tricks and Masonic secrets?
The music (a little Rossini, Puccini, and Irving Berlin, and lots of deliberately bad pop) pops up like breakfast tarts or ads on your computer, often with canned accompaniments and unceremonious dramatic preparation.