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Performance

Burlesque 'Cinderella' ably twists fairy-tale silliness

Robert Hurwitt, Chronicle Theater Critic
  Friday, December 7, 2001

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POLITE APPLAUSE

CINDERELLA: Holiday panto. By Stewart McKie. Directed by Allen McKelvey. (Through Dec. 22. San Francisco Shakespeare Festival and American Citizen's Theatre at the Ira & Leonore S. Gershwin Theater, 2350 Turk Blvd., San Francisco. Two hours, 20 minutes. Tickets $19-$26. Call (415) 392-4400 or visit http://www.sfshakes.org/).


"Surely an hour or two will do," the Fairy Godmother promises in doggerel rhymed couplets, "to make Cinderella's dream come true." Actually, it takes a bit longer than that to reunite hapless heroine, glass slipper and handsome prince. But the audience at Monday's "Cinderella" opening at the Ira & Leonore S. Gershwin Theatre didn't seem to mind a bit.

For its first holiday show, the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival is presenting what may be the city's first "panto" (or pantomime), the hallowed burlesque form popular throughout the British Isles for almost three centuries.

The script, not to be confused with the "Cinderella" that Shakespeare Santa Cruz has staged in the past (this year, SSC's panto is "Gretel & Hansel"), is authentic. Written by the late Stewart McKie of Scotland, it's been adapted and staged by Belfast native Allen McKelvey, whose American Citizen's Theatre is co-producing.

It's all silliness and sentiment -- the familiar fairy tale compounded with farcical interludes, burlesque cross-dressing, Laurel and Hardy routines, plenty of audience interaction and songs ranging from Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein to Neil Diamond and Sonny Bono. Not to mention local celebrity walk-ons (Supervisor Tony Hall on opening night, singing "Sh-Boom"). If it's performed for the most part with better will than skill, that just seems to add to the good spirits.

Fortunately, the multitalented founder of the Bobs, Gunnar Madsen, anchors the festivities as a captivating host, actor, musical director and eminently capable keyboard accompanist. Elizabeth Allen is a sweetly beleaguered Cinderella, and Lisa Jenai Hernandez an engagingly dashing Prince Charming. Richard Ryan fills out some of Derek Sullivan's more outrageous costumes as a formidable wicked stepmother. Matthew Henerson and Bob Greene bring down the house with "Sopranos" accents as the thuggish stepsisters.

"Uneven" is a euphemism for the large ensemble's acting, and few of the singers can match Madsen's delivery, though Hernandez is beguiling on the Gershwins' "The Man (Girl) I Love," and the stepsisters hilariously growl- mangle "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." McKelvey and choreographer Kristin Price, who'd staged this show together before in Walnut Creek, manage to blend the disparate talents well enough that the intent matters more than the execution.

As Jeannette Manor's harried Fairy Godmother says, "These days we don't seem to make enough time for magic in our lives." "Cinderella" does.


 
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2001 San Francisco Chronicle   Page D - 6
 


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