Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Wally's review of Burn This
Cheri's modus operandi is to take a tale we all know and turn it into something new. Sure enough, there's a Prince, the two spoiled brat stepsisters, the nasty stepmother, and the downtrodden Cinderella. But the fairy godmother is now a street-wise godfather. Cinderella doesn't take a magic coach to the ball; instead, it's a city bus. And the shoes? You can't do Cinderella without the shoes, but there are no glass slippers here. Cinderella goes to the ball in rhinestone-studded red high-top sneakers, but they play almost no part in the Prince finding her again.
So how do the Prince and Cinderella get together? It's through a reality TV show a la "The Bachelor." The Prince has overdone it with his lavish lifestyle and is running short of funds, so the king tells him he has to marry for money, not for love. Thinking it will be good PR, the palace broadcasts a week-long show, and at the end the Prince has to choose his future wife from among the wealthiest young ladies in the kingdom. Who gets the rose?
It turns out that Cinderella's stepmother is the richest woman in town, so both of her daughters are among the eight finalists. Cinderella, who has no hope of any inheritance, has been allowed to come along as their servant. You can guess how it turns out, I'm sure, but the foregone conclusion isn't what's important. It's the creativity of how we get there, and elite is nothing if not creative.
The sets are minimal to the extreme, but the costumes (and, in this case, shoes) are extreme in the other direction. Cheri, Linda Downey, and Judy Brewster had to come up with probably a hundred costumes, and have done an excellent job. Cheri not only wrote the script, but directed (with Cara Sowers) and choreographed (with Alyssa Lamb), and I don't know how they pulled it together so well with a large cast of about thirty.
There's always dancing in an elite show, as you can tell from the name "elite Dance and Theatre," and most of it is energetic and enjoyable in this production, especially the "Uptown Funk" number. But what I liked even more is that there is more singing than usual (vocal direction is by Cindy Hatley). The entire cast does a terrific a cappella rendition of Billy Joel's "The Longest Time," which has a lyric very appropriate for this show: "I don't care what consequence it brings, I have been a fool for lesser things." And for some reason, the Prince has a boy band, so we get to hear Alex Harden, Drew Sowers, and Beau Brazfield perform a fine version of Extreme's "More than Words." These are two of the highlights in the show.
There's also more theater than dance in this show, and most of the acting is really good, especially by Stephanie Simon and Cara Sowers as the stepsisters and the other six bachelorettes. Vanessa Trujillo plays Cinderella, and her acting is pretty rudimentary, but she projects a certain sweetness that the role requires. Tim Nguyen is affable throughout as the Prince, but there would have been more of a character arc if he had started out as an arrogant jerk and softened up as he fell in love. The only sour note is brought about by the extravagantly gay mannerisms used by Iain Munro as the director and host of the TV show; that kind of stuff just isn't funny anymore.
One other thing I like about elite: It's the most egalitarian group I know. Performers who had starring roles in past productions come back and take supporting or chorus parts, and everyone seems to be having a great time. The audience does too, and I always look forward to the next show.
Cinderella, adapted by Cheri Costales, is being presented by elite Dance and Theatre at the North 4th Theatre, 4904 4th St. NW in Albuquerque (just north of Griegos). Through September 17, 2016. Friday and Saturday at 7:00, Saturday matinee at 2:00. Tickets $18 to 22. Information at www.elitenm.net.