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Emerald City’s ‘Cinderella’ too campy for its own good

Missy Karle (from left) stars as CinderellTommy Bullingtportrays Grace Heather Townsend stars as Stepmother Mark Kosten plays Temperance “Cinderella” Broadway

Missy Karle (from left) stars as Cinderella, Tommy Bullington portrays Grace, Heather Townsend stars as the Stepmother and Mark Kosten plays Temperance in “Cinderella” at the Broadway Playhouse.

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When: Through Jan. 6

Where: Emerald City Theatre at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut

Tickets: $16-$27

Info: (800) 775-2000; www.broadwayin

Updated: December 29, 2012 6:08AM

If you’re talking about shoes and gowns, the place to be is the lobby of the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. That’s where the Emerald City Theatre company’s production of “Cinderella” is now borrowing the morning slot from the “Potted Potter” (as in Harry) lads. And it’s where you will find three year-old girls in tights (and diapers), and rosy pink Ugg boots, and their slightly older sisters, clutching their American Girl dolls, decked out in sparkly t-shirts, lace skirts and tiaras. The girls’ brothers tend to be more subdued — outfitted in the latest sports jersey or preppy J. Crew outfit.

Onstage, the company that brought you “Pinkalicious” continues to create broad, 1950s-style children’s theater, presenting an irritatingly campy “Cinderella” that has been adapted by lyricist Alyn Cardarelli, and features music by Steve Goers. After decades of increasingly sophisticated entertainment for young audiences (from “Sesame Street,” to the work of this city’s Redmoon Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, Barrel of Monkeys and the Chicago Children’s Theatre, to name just a few), it’s difficult to understand why this troupe — which suggests the ideal age for this hourlong production is between 3 and 10 — continues to cling to such a retro style of presentation and design.

Accompanying adults might get the feeling they’ve stumbled into a children’s version of “La Cage aux Folles” given all the gender-play that surely goes over the heads of most of the kids. Forget the fact that Cinderella (Missy Karle, who possesses a lovely, semi-operatic voice), is stuck with horrid stepsisters in drag who bear the ironic names of Grace (Tommy Bullington) and Temperance (Mark Kosten). These roles often are played by men. But it really is stretching the Charles Perrault fairy tale to have the bitchy Stepmother (Heather Townsend), tell us that “the only difference between rats and most men is men’s opposing thumbs.” In addition, this Cinderella can be seen engaging in swordplay with her Prince Jason (Blake Reddick).

The prince’s strange relationship with his weasel of a valet, Wesley (Corey L. Mills) — who fears losing his job if the Prince marries — also is a new element in the storytelling. At one point Wesley even engages in rodentlike combat with Cinderella’s ally, Ratford (the engaging Kyle Michael Kuhlman), who is “transmogrified” from his puppet incarnation to a human one. Cinderella’s Godmother (Jennifer T. Grubb) also is “transmogrified” — from a bird puppet perched in the balcony, to a flesh-and-blood good fairy.

Goers’ music is a mix of original tunes and pastiche, with the Stepsisters arriving in their gowns to a bump-and-grind strippers’ classic, and big band music played at the ball.

Director-choreographer Ernie Nolan is anything but subtle. And the overall design of the show is old-fashioned, with a particularly unfortunate costume for Cinderella that makes her look exceptionally dowdy until the all-important moment of transformation. The voices of the cast (under the music direction of Marta Johnson) are first-rate, despite the fact that the accompaniment is canned.

Working in favor of this “Cinderella” is one thing: Unlike the exorbitantly priced tickets for the disappointing “Potted Potter,” those for “Cinderella” might actually be affordable for many families.

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