Tré Cotten as Prince Topher and Mallory James as Cinderella in the Theatre Under The Stars production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.
Tré Cotten as Prince Topher and Mallory James as Cinderella in the Theatre Under The Stars production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

On its surface, it would be easy to dismiss a story like Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella in our present climate, what with its story of a young impoverished girl dreaming of marrying a dashing young prince. It just doesn’t scream 2018.

Surprisingly though, this incarnation not only passes the Bechdel sniff test, it even manages to take a couple steps beyond. This more modern feel comes in a large part from the new book by Douglas Carter Beane, and a few choices made by director Sarah Rodgers and her cast.

While this version of Cinderella still has romance at its heart, Beane injects the possibility of more important changes; think of it as a romantic comedy with a social justice heart. Without spoiling some of the surprises, suffice to say both Beane and director Rodgers accomplish this by combining the classic love story with a keen sense of fun, and even a tiny bit of subversion.

Along with Beane’s book, and Rodger’s directorial wink at some of the material, the other star of this show comes in the form of Nicol Spinola’s choreography, effectively performed by this energetic ensemble.

Choreography has been a hallmark for TUTS productions in the past, and it remains true here; it is often astounding to watch this group of largely amateur and pre-professional cast attack Spinola’s dance numbers with skill and panache.

But while Beane’s book may be real star of this show, it also takes actors capable of effectively working the new with the old.

Perfecting that duality, in one of the best performances of the night, is Laura Cowan as Marie (aka Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother). With a terrific voice, Cowan is almost a throwback to a different era, as if plucked from a Disney cartoon herself. But she also manages a somewhat contemporary feel that makes the overall material work.

Mallory James as Cinderella and Laura Cowan as Marie in the Theatre Under The Stars production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.
Mallory James as Cinderella and Laura Cowan as Marie in the Theatre Under The Stars production of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Photo by Lindsay Elliott.

In fact, it is this mash-up of contemporary and traditional where director Rodgers gets the most from this capable cast, with small flashes of modernity juxtaposed against this very old story. While some of it does feel a little forced at times, there is little doubt, with a little time, this will iron itself out.

As the title character, Mallory James gives us a pretty straightforward and no-nonsense performance. Her confidence is endearing, and she also has a fine singing voice.

On opening night though, the connection between James and her prince, an imposing Tré Cotton, didn’t quite move past the apron; despite its socially conscious updating, it is still very much a story about love after all.

A little stiff, Cotton also seemed to be struggling with some of the music, and there was an awkwardness at times in his attempts to add a hip charm to Prince Topher.

Other highlights include Michael Wild as the idealist and social activist, Sebastian, and Caitlin Clugston makes the most of Cinderella’s stepmother, making this over-the-top stereotype work.

You can’t help but fall in love with Vanessa Merenda as the new-and-improved stepsister, Gabrielle, and Caleb Lagayan appears to be having the time of his life as town crier, Lord Pinkleton.

In addition, Jenna Lamb and Aunjali Panju suitably steal their scenes as two adorable mice, and Kyle McCloy & Connor Briggs bring an elegance to their roles as horses for Cinderella’s carriage.

Set designer Brian Ball provides a few basic moveable pieces, suitably centered on a large clock. Christina Sinosich, who also designed the costumes for 42nd Street, deserves an award for sheer numbers. There is only a tiny bit of disappointment in Cinderella’s “magical” transformation from rags to gowns, largely accomplished by disappearing offstage.

Musical director Brent Hughes is at the podium with a very capable orchestra.

With its immediately recognizable story, injecting a fresh take on Cinderella is a necessity. Thanks to Beane’s new book, and Rodger’s direction, it is done with a surprisingly modern feel. I only wish I felt more joy in Cinderella finding her prince.

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. New book by Douglas Carter Beane. Original book by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Sarah Rodgers. A Theatre Under The Stars production playing on alternating nights with 42nd Street at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl until August 18. Visit tuts.ca for tickets and information.