Running through the holidays, Mad Cow Theatre's musical Cinderella provides a pleasant counterpoint to the other seasonal favorites that seem to get done to death on stages around town. The show will delight children and amuse adults, even if the score by Rodgers and Hammerstein doesn't really provide a good song to hum on the way to the parking lot. At least it re-proves a time-tested axiom: Employing relatives is a handy shield from those pesky child-labor laws.

You know the drill. Poor little Cinderella (Erin Cameron Beute) finds herself enslaved by a wicked stepmother and her two airhead daughters. The latter primp while Cinderella washes, cooks, shops, chops, marinates, sharpens knives, removes stains and probably even cuts glass. (If only we could get such help for five easy payments from QVC!) Cinderella's only refuge is a small, dank corner in the kitchen that no one wants, and occasional visits from her secretly magical Godmother (Sara Mathews). Godmother keeps Cindy's expectations low in the key song of the show, "Impossible," but eventually gives in to the girl's deepest wishes: Mice become horses, a pumpkin becomes a coach and Cinderella gets to show up those pushy sisters by winning the heart of the prince (Andy Brown). She gets the prize, all right, but I'll bet those other two freeloaders stay in her life; how else to explain the small, inbred nobility of those days?

Mad Cow sprinkles its own pixie dust on the classic material. Though a huge pile of set pieces has been crammed into the theater's Stage Left playing area, a clever revolving stage swings them in and out quickly; meanwhile, you'll wonder what four-dimensional space has been invented backstage to house the full complement of costumes and chorus members.

The acting works across the board, with enough chemistry on display to keep the story believable. Mathews' solemn Godmother meshes perfectly with the pure innocence of Beute's Cinderella. Gary Graham and Dawn Wicklow make a nicely domestic king and queen, more worried about their son's happiness than all that dynastic folderol. The evil triumvirate of step-relations clicks as well, with bad mama Kathy Baker-Wood cracking the whip over Alanna Woonteiler's fluffy Joy and Lauren Alfano's pseudo-intellectual Portia.

It's a children's story, certainly, but that doesn't mean it's devoid of grown-up subtext. What we have here is a traditional European morality tale. Cinderella suffers two devastating blows: First her mother dies, and then her father, but only after he remarries. Thus, the title to Cinderella is passed to the stepmother. Neither woman has a male defender in a male-dominated world. The stepmother invests her resources in her own daughters, whose loyalty and looks she hopes will take her as far as possible. Cinderella, in contrast, is now past her prime, and 20-hour stints doing chores are leaving her with dishpan hands and few options.

Godmother represents the divine, and a slim chance to break free. But divinity comes with mysterious restrictions: Be back by midnight, or something evil will take you. (Hmmmm.) Naturally, the prince takes to Cinderella, but what of that wildly impractical slipper? No shoe could be made of glass, and this one symbolizes Cinderella's potential to be a useless decorative ornament – just what a prince needs.

And only she can wear the slipper. Isn't this a bit odd? Either the kingdom is very, very small, or Cinderella has an extremely unusual foot. Why the unique fit, and why doesn't the prince recognize her until the shoe is placed? There's more Joseph Campbell buried here than I have room for. You'll need to see the show yourself, and take notes.

More by Al Pergande


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