Shows should not be put in settings other than the ones for which they were written simply for the sake of being unusual. Fortunately, in Sundance Theatre’s techno production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” just enough sweetness remains to make the effort seem sincere, rather than just an example of random modernizing.
Director Damien Gray has set this musical telling of the classic fairy tale in a ’90s “rave” dance club environment. Much of the music has gone techno, and so has the dancing. A lot of the dialogue has been updated, too — a good idea, for surely if Richard Rodgers ever made a mistake, it was in omitting the word “dude” from his scripts.
(I’m being ironic. Please, put the phone down.)
At first, the changes make the show seem like a parody of “Cinderella,” not just a different style of presenting it. Characters are dressed in the outlandish get-ups of the kids these days, and a loud hip-hop fellow shouts with much aplomb that “the prince is having a ball!” The first number so overdoes the modernization, in fact, that one resents being pummeled with it. Being “experimental” (a theater term for “weird”) doesn’t automatically mean you’re being artistic!
Fortunately, the show gets a lot of the avant-garde out of its system quickly, and it settles into a nice, stylized groove. Monica Fawson’s short-haired Cinderella sings “In My Own Little Corner” beautifully, accompanied only by two pianists (Ryan Murphy and Dwight Bigler). Here the show tells us that it knows when it’s appropriate to mess around and when it’s not.
Carlos L. Encinias, astride a gallant skateboard and bedecked in silver, proves an able singer and dancer. His acting style, as well as that of Fawson, is one of non-acting. Their scene together at the ball, as they leave the crowd and go off on their own to talk and fall in love, is almost surreal. There is little character depth in the script to begin with, and even less in this production (Cinderella’s mistreatment at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters is more implied than shown). Yet somehow, the Prince and Cinderella’s falling in love is captivating. It doesn’t seem stagey or dramatic or theatrical; it seems realistic and natural. All the glitter and pageantry of the rest of the show is noticeably absent as the two young lovers fall for each other in this very sweet, very romantic scene.
Later, a hip-hop shoe-fitting scene features some great dancing from the supporting cast, and some fine choreography from Sally Silvers. A jazzy number between the prince and his friend (Jesse Walker) is also entertaining. This is an unusual show, but most of its oddness is justified. Fans of the original should not be too offended by the changes, for they seem to have been made lovingly.
The Sundance Theatre, an outdoor venue, is part of the Sundance Ski Resort, which is also connected with the Sundance Film Festival, which is owned by Robert Redford. He lives somewhere up in Provo Canyon, on or near the Sundance site, but no one ever sees him.
At this show, however, sitting in front of me, not six feet away, was Robert Redford. Yes! A rare sighting of the elusive woodland creature and one-time moving-picture star.
If you have not seen Redford in person, you may be surprised at 1) how not-tall he is, and 2) how old he looks. I don't know what his age is, but seriously, he looks 10 years older than it. An equation for Redford's appearance would be Y = X + 10, where Y is how old he looks and X is his actual age. My date informed me that he has gorgeous eyes, however, thus putting me in my place.
Interesting thing: Redford left at intermission. Interesting thing No. 2: Mr. Environment left behind his half-eaten bag of popcorn and some napkins. Interesting thing No. 3: After the show, the woman next to me picked up the napkins as souvenirs. One person's litter is another person's memorabilia, I guess.