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Performing Arts

Published Friday, December 7, 2001

Group does 'Cinderfella' -- er, 'Cinderella'

PAT CRAIG: THEATER


REVIEW
  • WHAT: San Francisco Shakespeare Festival presents "Cinderella," by Stuart McKie
  • WHEN: Wednesdays-Sundays through Dec. 22
  • WHERE: Ira and Lenore S. Gershwin Theater, 2350 Turk Blvd., S.F.
  • HOW MUCH: $19-$26
  • CALL: 415-392-4400

    By Pat Craig
    CONTRA COSTA TIMES


    The wicked stepmother resembles J. Edgar Hoover in more ways than most of us would like to admit, and the ugly stepsisters, not counting the dresses, of course, look and talk like bagmen for Tony Soprano.

    On the other hand, the handsome prince and his faithful manservant are tall, lovely young women.

    The entire kingdom, in fact, is awash in a sort of pixilated insanity that makes this telling of "Cinderella" much different from the happily-ever-after Disney version.

    Things do end up happily ever after, as all fairy tales should, but on the way to sweetness and light, this gender-bending panto version of the story incorporates everything from broad English music hall humor to a community sing of the Monkees' hit "I'm a Believer" before the "Mamma Mia!" style dancing-in-the-aisles conclusion.

    Audiences in this area were introduced to the panto style a couple of years ago, when Allen McKelvey and his American Citizens' Theatre staged "Cinderella" at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

    This year, director McKelvey teams with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival to spread the insanity across the Bay and present a bigger, splashier version of the play.

    Panto, or pantomime, plays are a British Christmas tradition. Usually based on classic fairy tales, with men in women's roles and women in men's roles, they consist of daffy comedy and song parodies. It has nothing at all to do with the silent pantomime of '60s street-corner refugees -- in panto, there is plenty of dialogue.

    The tradition is something that really ought to be part of the American holiday celebration (it's certainly much better than, say, fruitcake). By no means as sugary-sweet as traditional family holiday fare, panto trades on high-spirited goofiness to entertain audiences of all ages. The stock characters typically include Buttons (Gunnar Madsen), a downtrodden but well-meaning hero who more or less narrates and cheerleads the piece, and Fetch and Carry (David Babich and Patrick Sieler), a physical comedy duo who occasionally break into the action for a comedy sketch.

    Here, "Cinderella" promises no more than a couple of hours of fun. And it delivers, nicely, with a rough-and-tumble sort of comedy that will never be confused with, say, "Hamlet." The show has a joyous sort of raggedness, the sort that stems from an ad-lib-laden script, and a comedy-at-all-costs philosophy that allows horrible puns, silly song sendups and an entry story thread based on outrageous malapropisms.

    The show runs on its enormous energy, and, fueled by high-octane laughing gas, the piece simply flies along, thanks to a cast that is firmly dedicated to the proposition of being goofy and letting the laughs drop like so many cream pies from the top shelf.

    Richard Ryan as the stepmother and Bob Greene and Matthew Henerson as the two stepsisters are incredibly funny, stealing the show in roles that were designed to be show-stealers. Jeanette Manor does a fine job as the confused Queen Mum, but is simply outstanding as the Fairy Godmother, the spirit of limited powers who manages to bumble Cinderella to the ball.

    Essentially, if you've had your fill of "Nutcrackers" and "Christmas Carols," this may be the perfect piece of theater for your holiday.

    Pat Craig is the Times theater critic. He can be reached at 925-945-4736 or at pcraig@cctimes.com.

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