Article from Star Ledger

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If the shoe fits ...
It's not the 'Cinderella' you grew up with, but it works
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

Cinderella's glass slippers are getting a hotfoot.

Librettist Tom Briggs has turned "Cinderella," Rodgers and Hammerstein's classy 1957 television musical, into a slam-bang laff-riot at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. Audiences who are expecting a wistful rendition of the famous fairy tale are in for a jolt. Most of the time, though, they'll be convulsed with laughter from this low-comic romp.

Anachronisms abound in the dialogue. "Duh," "suck it up" and "get a life" all make appearances, and "same old-same old" is said twice. The Fairy Godmother has a decidedly urban, seen-it-all sensibility, and chummily addresses Cinderella as "Honey." The king and prince exchange high-fives.

This approach doesn't quite mesh with Rodgers and Hammerstein's elegant score, which is one of their best. Still, many parents who have dutifully brought their children are going to find this fractured fairy tale approach a welcome alternative to the story they've heard one time too many. They'll have fun, too, when they hear their kids guffaw and giggle.

Young and old will delight to the excellent production values. The orchestra pit is filled with 20 accomplished musicians who get the most out of every gavotte and waltz. James Youmans' sets are lush and plentiful. Pamela Scofield's costumes, if eye-joltingly comic, are in the spirit of the freewheeling production. (The stepmom looks like an exploded eggplant in her outfit.)

Under Gabriel Barre's fanciful direction, Angela Gaylor certainly doesn't play Cinderella as a demure little miss. Gaylor has backbone and doesn't buy her step-relations' view of her inferiority. Thus, when she makes her transformation to belle of the ball, she's right at home in her glorious gown, and ready to meet her fate.

Paolo Montalban is what her prince must be: charming. Both he and Gaylor sing beautifully, especially in one of Rodgers' most enchanting melodies, "Ten Minutes Ago." If only that song, along with Jennifer Paulson Lee's graceful choreography, would last that long.

Nora Mae Lyng, as the stepmother, strikes fear in the hearts of children as she takes parenting to a new low. Kids will be mollified, though, by Suzzanne Douglas' Fairy Godmother. She's unsurpassed in her ability to lock eyes with her audience, and plenty in the orchestra section will be soothed by her comforting words and lyrics.

Jen Cody and Janelle Anne Robinson portray Cinderella's stepsisters, the inappropriately named Joy and Grace. They get every one of the laughs they reach for, thanks to their many over-the-top antics. There's more amusement from Larry Keith and Joy Franz as the King and Queen, characterized as a hen-pecked husband and a dominating wife. The two performers seem as if they've been putting up with each other for decades.

In the grand tradition of Disney cartoons -- where woodland creatures come to the aid of heroes and heroines -- Briggs has added a cast of stuffed animals as Cinderella's confidants. Bunraku puppeteers deftly manipulate four mice, a cat and a soaring dove. At Sunday's opening, the mice received a round of applause after they rallied to help Cinderella. The puppeteers, headed by Jason Robinson, deserved it.

Earlier this month, Disney released its 1951 "Cinderella" animated film on DVD. Now we have another highly animated version, live on stage in Millburn.

Paolo Montalban website: