For a story hell-bent on making the audience wish it were the protagonists, Starlight’s production of Cinderella succeeded.
It did a great job of making me wish I was a member of the ensemble – one of the nameless, nearly faceless human props. If I could be so fortunate, all I’d do is dance with an attractive member of the opposite sex, wear brilliant costumes that accentuate the better parts of my body, look happy, sad or puzzled (when appropriate), sing choruses (with not too much passion), take my bow, then pick up my paycheck after the curtain dropped.
No eternal love. No happily-ever-after, but I would feel honest because I’d have said nothing – would not have declared a passion that I did not demonstrate.
But Tuesday’s performance at Starlight didn’t have me wishing I could be swept up in the kind of magical love shared between the Prince and Cinderella. But rather that I could just clock out from the whole affair and go get a cold drink somewhere because the air was literally sweltering.
A steady flicker of Beauty Brands fans waved in front of the masses’ sweaty necks and faces. And those outfits up on stage, made of heavy-looking material– how did the actors bear it?
I was sweating like a beer can, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, just sitting there doing nothing more than contributing to Starlight’s slightly more than half-capacity crowd.
And I was apparently the only single man in this throng of children, parents, and the elderly.
Is this the intended audience for Cinderella? Yes, obviously. The youth will be heartened to see their heroine face a two-dimensional adversity and then overcome it through song and dance. And most adults will drool at any depiction of upward mobility, no matter how fantastical.
This production is probably best suited for viewers who watch this with their children or parents; that way you can both appreciate it on behalf of someone else, and ignore its conflicts with your understanding of life.
Who, after all, could take a hard look at Cinderella and really find appeal in this love story? It is in fact a story about love. The answers here are tricky. Cinderella is not meant to be watched, but experienced by audiences who can convince themselves it is fun.
And no, it’s not a story about love, but a story about "love."
You probably already know that Cinderella is completely and unjustly oppressed by her step-mother and step-sisters and then – because she believes she can find love and because she has access to magic – does, thus becoming liberated from work.
A fine lesson for those of us with magic wands!
If kids are looking for fun, they’ll find it. The 15 or so songs sung in Cinderella come and go, each wrapped up nicely and neatly and book-ended by scenes of various plot-energy. Adults will delight in the majestic quality of everything (majestic costumes, lights, majestic smoke and orchestral swells, majestic sweat even).
But to solitary viewers like me, the story, and this particular production, seems obsessed with the sex it cannot depict.
Cinderella’s (Kara Lindsay) innocence and naiveté are played to the absolute hilt. To a point just shy of inertia, probably so no one will raise an eyebrow when they figure every character’s love is shallow. So no one will come to the conclusion that we all know what the Prince is really after here.
To appear to be without any physical or verbal passion is strange for a character who does nothing but want and yearn, imagine, hope, and dream. Cinderella’s leading man charms her though (presumably through his royal status and dashing looks).
Yet his own romantic appeal to the audience registers somewhere between a traffic jam and a lawyer commercial.
I kept waiting for the Prince (Claybourne Elder) to kick up the sizzle once Cinderella donned her woman-making gown. And then he’d earn the "charming" part of his job-description. But he was without any suavity, and thus believability, as the object of her (or our) desires.
Why does she like him again? Anyone? Oh yes, it’s in the script, the fable. Or maybe it really is believable that a woman so naive would like a man so wooden. Or maybe he’s just not my type.
Let me be clear: Nobody needs to see an X-rated "Cinderella" at Starlight.
It would be difficult to watch any of the nasty bits in great detail, and the open air would likely swallow up the moans and imperative sentences. What might help our empathy for the plight of the leading actors though would be for them to walk the walk.
What we maybe needed though, might be called a kind of swagger that can hint to perceptive non-virgins that these people’s declarations of love are really earnest. If only through the logic of fantasy. And if their passions aren’t earned, that they can be made real through that same human impulse that presumably drives actors to act in the first place– motivation.
Let’s just say I have a good idea of what happens after the Prince and Cinderella leave the stage.
However what takes place before the curtain falls points us nowhere in the direction of consummated love.
So is this really a theatrical production for kids and kids only? That being the case, I would say that Starlight’s Cinderella gets a pass on all matters of story. It is a Rodgers & Hammerstein affair and kkids aren’t really critics, but rather tuchuses in seats.
But what troubles me is my belief that the average kid actually does understand what passion is. Because they’re still human beings who want things, and can identify with the repeated claim that Cinderella wants and wants and wants.
So if the song and dance were stripped away, the troubles of our main characters would remain too dire to be solved by a passionless romance. The moral lesson we can take away from Starlight’s production is to suffer adversity and wait until it gets better. That passion won’t liberate anyone, but money will.
Herodotus, the first historian of Western civilization, wrote of Rhodopis, the slave on whom the legend of Cinderella would come to be based. After her freedom was purchased by a sympathizing slave-holder, she became a wealthy courtesan, a woman "of the flesh," and died not in a single, everlasting romantic embrace, but after a multitude of momentary ones.
History and myth moved along, and Rodgers & Hammerstein adapted other adaptations of her story to suit the values of the average 1950’s television viewer (who probably got laid more than I do).
Or perhaps the passionless love that characterizes the contemporary Cinderella comes from the idea that love can be so pure as to be other-worldly, inhuman.
In Starlight’s production, it is not the title character, but her sisters and step-mother that come closest to Rhodopis’s booty-vibe. Laura E. Taylor, Shannon Connolly, and Paula Leggett Chase perform magnificently as the lizardy step-sisters and -mother. Somehow fluid, yet chaotic on the stage, as they vie for the prince’s attention. Each have wild, fluorescent dresses and hats that sharpen their very funny and deftly delivered scenes.
Portia is expertly annoying; Joy is perfectly rancid; the step-mother is so caustic yet so likeable at the same time that it’s easy to forget our duty-bound allegiance to Cinderella. In the absence of likable heroes and heroines, it becomes easier to identify with the morally rotten. Or maybe those actresses are just too intoxicating. One of the ladies’ shared songs, "A Lovely Night," earned some of the most enthusiastic laughs and applause of the evening.
Other characters contrast the three wicked women via their own neutrality: King Max is appropriately dopey and benign, and his wife, Queen Maisie, although almost singing her spoken dialogue with the vacillations of a bird, fade into the background. It is the two sisters and the step-mother that bring this play closest to any point of authenticity, however cartoonish they may be. Love is often desperate, after all.
Cinderella believes that even foolish dreams come true– and this belief might sustain Cinderella, which runs at Starlight Theater through the 31st of July.
Apparently, passionate love can be had between two people without anyone pumping blood through their own veins. The foolish dream of loveless romance becomes a reality when put on a stage. Her dreams, brought to life by the Fairy Godmother’s low-budget-seeming-yet-still-convincing on-stage sorcery. As are our own dreams, no matter how fanciful or unrealistic.