There’s something special and thoroughly unique that happens when an imagination is unleashed and a theatrical production is subsequently crafted.
Take Central Alberta Theatre’s Cinderella Dances with the Stars, running at the Memorial Centre in Red Deer with performances through to Dec. 21. Curtain for evening shows is at 7 p.m. with matinees set for Dec. 21 at 1 p.m.
The ‘panto’ is an Anglo-Italian Christmas tradition, proved popular not only in the UK but Australia, South Africa and the U.S. where one New York production once ran for 1,200 performances. Panto has also not been performed previously in Red Deer, but is well-loved elsewhere in Canada. Written and directed by Albert Azzara, this three-act has been described as a ‘larger-than-life farcical musical comedy’ that will engage children of all ages with its ‘traditional blend of slapstick, topical and corny jokes, pantomime horses and dastardly villains, men playing ugly women and lots of songs and dance.’
There’s a big dance-off in the works.
Our sweet Cinderella ‘dances with the stars’ in this version, and the prince has to marry a suitable dancing princess. But a pair of villains try to mess with the process.
Needless to say, the show is packed with all kinds of colourful, vibrant characters, there are lots of different styles of music utilized throughout and there is plenty of audience involvement too.
Ultimately, it’s also been described as a modern day version of the classic love story crammed with songs, dances and references to Red Deer’s landmarks, people, businesses and popular culture. That element usually adds a nice, familiar feel to the action. Another huge plus is that Red Deer’s own Olivia Smith – who has been blessed with an amazing voice – landed the title role.
Smith makes the perfect Cinderella – sweet, lovely and a joy to listen to with her exquisite vocal talents. Her voice is dreamy, as in Where is Love from the production Oliver. She’s a strong actor as well – the ideal choice for the central role.
Other standouts as the wild and unpredictable story unfolds are the always reliable and hilarious Geoff Tagg as the ‘evil stepmother’ Bertha Mozzarella, and her two frightening daughters Pansy (Hannah Humphreys) and Marigold (Jake Sheardown.) Humphreys and Sheardown have lots of fun with their roles as the nasty, conniving sisters and also pull off an amusing rendition of Anything You Can Do from Annie Get Your Gun.
Shannon Clark as Natasha of Bullwinkle and Nicole Orr as Lady Priscilla of the Desert both pour loads of energy and expression into their colourful characters.
Ian Sheppard is also outstanding as Buttons – Cinderella’s reliable and faithful friend. And of course we can’t forget Gianna Lal and Hunter Ghesquiere as the two brave souls who play the horse Putter.
Tom Brushett is terrific as Prince Rudolph (Boris) of Nureyev, and Cynthia Edwards is really strong as Betty White as is Marianne Christenson as Queen Isadora of Duncan.
And Alex Uricaru is also exceptional as the regal Prince Channing of Tatum – who all the ladies are of course trying to attract. Of course, you know pretty much how the story ends – but there are, not surprisingly, lots of twists in getting to those final moments.
Honestly, I have never seen anything like this in all my years of watching plays here in Red Deer. And while it’s crazy, unapologetically over the top and fairly silly and ridiculous at times, that is all the point. These types of plays also rely on audience reaction and participation to fuel the momentum – there’s lots of booing, hissing, cheering – even a little ‘hokey pokey’ dancing thrown in. Kids seems to especially enjoy the non-stop antics on stage and the grown-ups were having a pretty good time too.
The key problem? It’s too long. This production nears the three hour mark and there are indeed moments that could have been shaved off or eliminated. But having said that, I couldn’t help but marvel at Azzara’s ability to put together this kind of show – it’s packed with modern, pop culture and political references – there’s even Prime Minister Stephen Harmonica (Lionel Lustgarten).
Sounds nutty, and it is. But it offered an afternoon of helping this rather tired writer to escape to a lighter, happier place.
Azzara has said that CAT is fortunate to count among its members many experienced panto aficionados who have been working for the last 12 months to prepare a Cinderella production based in ‘Royal Red Deer’.
And he’s grateful for the reams of community support he’s had in pulling the production together. That includes the folks at CAT of course who’ve been working so hard to bring the project to fruition, he said.
For tickets, visit www.blackknightinn.ca or call 403-755-6626.