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A hipper, smarter "Cinderella" comes to Detroit Opera House
Like most fairy tales, "Cinderella" is over-served with archetypes and cliches -- the oppressed damsel, the regal royals, the opulent court.
Fortunately there's "Rogers + Hammerstein's Cinderella" to spin those on their ear a little bit.
The production -- at the Detroit Opera House through Feb. 28 -- fortifies the tale, a staple in Walt Disney's princess canon, with attitude. With a book newly contemporized by Douglas Carter Beane, this "Cinderella" rolls with CW channel-caliber swing and swagger and whip-smart dialogue; it's still charming and family friendly but with some welcome edge, so nuevo hip that it wouldn't be surprising to see some of the attendees at Prince Charming's masked ball pulled out smartphones for selfies.
More than anything Beane's script succeeds into putting heart and dimension into the familiar characters. Prince Topher (U-M grad Andy Huntington Jones) is in the midst of existential crisis as he prepares to ascend to the throne, wailing "I just wish I was doing something more important with my life" after slaying a clawed creature that looks like something from the puppet world of Sid and Marty Kroft. And after getting a first look at the Prince, the proletariat-minded Cinderella (Kaitlyn Davidson) notes, "That man, a world leader? But he appears to have a heart, mind and soul."
There's a medieval equivalent of a rap battle during the ball, and Jean-Michel (David Andino), a passionate but uncertain political activist -- a welcome addition unto itself -- makes a sly reference to the gowned bourgeois attire as "a carnival attraction." These are among plenty of observations and aside that, wittingly or not, are spot-on fits in this particular election year.
None of that undermines the essential charm of the "Cinderella" story, however. Rogers and Hammerstein's songs -- "Impossible," "If It`s Possible," "A Lovely Night," "Ten Minutes Ago" -- are familiar and easy on the ears. The scenery is fluid, and Cinderella's onstage costume changes, from her schmatas into elegant gowns, are smooth. The compact cast is clearly comfortable with the contemporary tenor of their lines, and Andino, stepmother Blair Ross and "wicked" stepsister Charlotte (Lulu Picart) display sharp comic timing with some of the script's better line.
It's no spoiler to note that the ending is, as ever, happy -- for the kingdom as well as for Topher and Cinderella. And it's a pleasing experience to see that after centuries of storybooks and adaptations, "Cinderella" can handle a significant reboot and still wear its glass slipper well.
Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella
Through Feb. 28.
Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit.
Tickets are $59-$89.
Call 313-237-7464 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.
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