Cinderella (A RATical Retelling) - Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Mike Kenny, Original Music by Jason Jestadt
Directed by Allen MacInnis
Runs until Dec. 30th 2012, Review Based on the first preview.
Alligator Pie - Soulpepper at Michael Young Theatre in the Young Centre for the Performing Arts - *** (out of 5 stars)
Based on the book by Dennis Lee, Created by Ins Choi, Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest and Mike Ross.
Runs until Dec. 2nd 2012. Returns in the 2013 season.
Is theatre created specifically for children required to take into account their supposed lack of attention spans? Or is that just condescending to kids whom we tend to label as ADD as soon as their mind wanders? Two new shows geared towards young audiences have opened in Toronto and while one tends to be a jumpy, slightly scattered show that one would think would be perfect for the short attention spans of its audience, it's the slightly longer, more patient play that seems to have kept the kids from agitating in their seats. Both shows have their charms, but I guess being an adult, my view of the shows may already be skewed.
Cinderella (A RATical Retelling), a new spin on the classic tale with the rats acting as a chorus of narrators, is a delightful holiday show for YPT that does not dumb down the emotions and tone for the kids' sake.
The cast is a stellar group of some of Toronto's best actors, including Dmitry Chepovetsky (A Midsummer's Night Dream), Elodie Gillette (Shaw Festival), and Deanne deGruijter, and they throw themselves into their roles (as rats) with the same aplomb they would a Shakespearean play, giving this Cinderella the heft of an epic drama but with the silliness of a family friendly show. Amy Lee, better known as half of Morro and Jasp, is absolutely hysterical as a rat and one of the evil stepsisters, while she's matched in comedic prowess by Richard Lee (A Midsummer's Night Dream, Other People), who has some truly laugh-out-loud moments while switching characters and switching accents.
With a looming set by Robin Fisher, the stage at YPT has never looked bigger or more epic, almost operatic. Perfect to bring us down into the world of these narrator rats, who befriended Cinderella and name her for being on the ground covered in cinder ashes. A dark but evocative lighting design by Lesley Wilkinson and some intricate and clever costumes by Fisher, might at first seem a bit dour and brown, but manage to work perfectly with the tone of the show, directed by Allen MacInnis in a way that does not condescend to its younger audience base.
Former Canadian Idol contestant Steffi DiDomenicantonio, who was a revelation on the Spring Awakening North American tour, is absolutely delightful here in the title role. With a beautiful singing voice, and with an emotional presence that is affecting but not overdramatic, Steffi D keeps the role grounded in an honesty that centres the production and avoids drawing bold strokes for the young audiences sake.
The whole cast has an amazing comedic timing together, already with perfected rhythms required (especially considering it was the first preview performance), and they all seem to have fun with the enjoyable songs by Jason Jestadt while wearing costumed tails. While the songs may not become musical theatre history classics, they work in the context of the show and have some hummable moments. While the show feels more like a play with songs, there are quite enough songs that it is basically a musical, though an additional song near the beginning, while the story is being set up, might help move things along early on (despite working well as a patient play).
Still, with terrific past holiday shows like Seussical and Frog & Toad, YPT's great penchant for top notch casts and imaginative costume and playful set designs may finally have culminated in their best show yet here with an original version of a classic tale (and not rely on existing, and problematic musicals as in the previous mentioned cases) that seems suitable for kids of all ages (and the adults who accompany them).
Alligator Pie, developed and created by Soulpepper's younger ensemble members; Ins Choi (writer of Kim's Convenience), Raquel Duffy, Ken MacKenzie, Gregory Prest (Ghost) and Mike Ross, based on the famous Canadian children's book of poetry by Dennis Lee, is the rare Soulpepper effort to create a brand new show, and one specifically geared toward children no less, an audience rarity in the usual Soulpepper repertoire (Despite being housed in a theatre complex called the Young Centre).
Based on a series of poems, the stage play with new music set to the poems, is a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas and creative presentations, with the winsome cast doing their darndest to keep the audience of kids (and some adults) entertained. While there are many cool and unique moments throughout the show, things begin to get slightly tiresome as we move from one idea (and poem) to the next, to the next, and the whole show doesn't congeal together quite as well as it should. While things end off with a bang (or multiple mini bangs involving bubble wrap), and there are clever uses of "found" items, many sequences are as quickly forgotten as they came to be, as the game cast moves on to the next part of the show.
It's fun to watch the cast, usually seen in far more serious fare at Soulpepper, act all silly for the kids, and when there are creatively clever theatrical moments, the show shows what its potential can be. Performed in-the-round, sometimes one side misses actions, faces and even lines, due to some sound and diction problems, but they are quibbles that can be fixed. The entire show as a whole though, as fun as it may be, still needs some editing and tightening as the middle jumble set off some restless kids (and one tired adult) at the matinee I attended.
Cinderella photos by Mark Seow
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com