‘Other Cinderella’ charming at Black Ensemble Theater
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org December 4, 2012 12:36PM
When: Through Jan. 13
Where: Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark
Info: (773) 769-4451; www.ticketmaster.com
Updated: January 6, 2013 9:41AM
Fairy tales, even more than the plays of Shakespeare, open themselves up to endless reinvention. And Jackie Taylor’s hilarious, musically sophisticated, hipper-than-hip show, “The Other Cinderella” — first produced in 1976, and remounted (and continually tweaked and updated on an every-other-year basis ever since) — is a prime example of how to breathe fresh, and happily irreverent life into a familiar story.
With its incomparable snap, crackle and pop, the current edition of Taylor’s classic might well be the best ever, with an impeccable cast of 16 actors comprised of both BET veterans and a slew of up-and-coming talents who are sure to delight the younger audiences the theater is working hard to attract. I would put this production up against any holiday special. And watching it, I kept thinking: If Oprah is looking for a way to grab a younger audience for her TV channel she should make this her next special. And if Tyler Perry wants to start reaching out to family audiences, this musical, with its terrific mix of rap and hip-hop, blues, soul, reggae and more (the work of Michael Ward and Taylor), has all the makings of a hit movie.
But who cares about those moguls’ prerogatives when you can take a seat in the Black Ensemble’s new theater and join “the other kingdom” — an all black, but far from class-less society, where you’ll meet some sassy royals, some money-hungry vulgarians, and even a white girl known only as “Dorothy from Kansas” who wanders in and sings the blues.
Framing the story here is a lottery contest designed to select the royal couple’s new Page. The winner, much to everyone’s surprise, is an easily assimilated homey (zesty work by the charismatic Raymond Wise). After bidding goodbye to his fellow hoodies, the Page meets the royal family — the confident King (Dwight Neal) and his still sexy Queen (Rhonda Preston) — and quickly adapts to the castle’s West Wing. He also gets to work on the royal couple’s late-bloomer of a son, the Prince (the spot-on Lawrence Williams), who is being strongly pressured to find a wife.
Things heat up as the King and Queen send invitations to all the kingdom’s citizens, hoping the Prince will finally meet his girl at a ball. The invitation is jumped on by Stepmomma (Dawn Bless), a dyspeptic postal worker, and her hapless, sexed-up, ever-bickering daughters, Geneva (Jessica Moore), and Margarite (Lisa Beasley), all of whom play to stereotype. Of course they treat Cinderella (the lovely, clarion-voiced Ta-Tynisa Wilson), the abandoned daughter of her mother’s second husband, like dirt, even though she is the prettiest and classiest of them all.
Cinderella will be rescued by her Jamaican Fairygodmama (the winningly seductive A’rese Emokpae), who literally flies in to supply the girl with confidence, an outfit, and a “stretch Hummer” driven by the hottest rap stars (as opposed to Sidney Poitier, the man of desire in the early days when Taylor herself played Cinderella).
You know the rest of the story — though there are a slew of witty twists here, including the unexpected arrival of Dorothy (Erin O’Shea stops the show with her dynamite voice).
Also adding zest are David Simmons and Mandy Lewis as the formal royal attendants, and Rueben Echoles (who doubles as choreographer), Alyssa Zopp, Brandon Markell Holmes and Malcolm Thompson as the hoodies. All are dressed in designer June Saito’s witty, character-defining costumes (with a witty quip about Payless shoes adding to the fun).
Music director Robert Reddrick leads the ever-fiery onstage band in this funky kingdom that is very much once upon OUR time.