Somehow we always end up dealing with Katrina these days. What, you may wonder, does the hurricane have to do with Cinderella's wicked stepsisters? Ask Charlie Ward, the longtime honcho at Rivertown Rep. He's the one who got a call from a guy at Disney Inc. The Mouse threatened to withdraw the rights to Rivertown's production of Cinderella unless Rivertown removed two actors, Gary Rucker and Sean Patterson. These talented young men had been cast as the stepsisters. Ward assures me this offbeat casting had nothing to do with gender politics. It was a joke; vaudeville shtick. But, what has the recent big wind in the Gulf to do with all this?
Well, when Ward scheduled Cinderella, he was trying to keep the theater afloat -- financially, that is; wind and water damage were minimal. He wanted the classic kiddy show to have a broader appeal, he told me, so it would work as part of the regular season. Rucker and Patterson were put in the drag roles for the amusement of the regular ticket holders, who risked getting short-changed on their season due to Katrina.
"Because of the hurricane, we haven't earned a penny this season," Ward explained. "It's already December. By the calendar, Cinderella should be our third show, but it's only our first show. If we closed Cinderella, we would have to close the theater. 'I don't care about the hurricane!' said the guy from Disney. 'We have a problem with cross-gendering.' And that was that! We recast the stepsisters."
That's fine for Ward and Disney, but the aforementioned cross-gender stepsisters resented the affront to their (counterfeit) femininity. And so, as the curtain fell on the opening-night performance of a joyful and more gender-appropriate Cinderella, Rucker and Patterson stormed down the aisle, through the audience, and up onto the stage. They brandished placards announcing an outrageous comic addenda to be performed after a short interval.
Yes, I realize we've almost lost track of Cinderella in this weird imbroglio. But, after all, this is the stuff theatrical legends are made of.
Nonetheless, let's pause here to consider Wayne Daigrepont's polished and entertaining production of the classic tale about that mistreated little dear who wins the heart of Prince Charming -- to the strains of such familiar tunes as "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and "Cinderella, Cinderella, All I Hear Is Cinderella."
Courtney Andersen is delightful as the eponymous maiden. She sings beautifully and has the natural grace the part calls for. She's neither sulky, nor a goody-two-shoes -- you can see why the prince falls for her. And Scott Sauber, whom we have admired in many character parts, wears his matinee-idol, heir-apparent boots as though to the manor born.
The rest of the cast creates a fine make-believe world. Cinderella's mice friends -- Gus-Gus (Adam Seagrave), Jacques (Dominique Lloyd), Luke (Dylan Young), Peria (Savannah Lloyd) and Girla (Kate Prendergast) -- are a winning bunch of young rascals. The Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo lady (Jan Porter) is a treat when she transforms pumpkin into coach and mice into footmen. As the villains, we have Arvilla Riddick as that nastiest of stepmothers, Ashley Ledet as Lucifer the cat and, last but not least, Maddie Bruno and Chelsea Armstrong as a hilarious pair of evil stepsisters.
Which brings us back to that other hilarious pair of evil stepsisters -- the ones who got their pink slips for anatomical reasons. When the Cinderella audience returned to their seats, on opening night, Rucker and Patterson -- in their male personae -- returned to the stage.
"We've never been fired before," they boasted, to explain their outrage. "We've deserved to be fired, but it never happened!"
Then they launched into a zany, semi-improvised presentation about the pre-Disney history of Cinderella. This feisty lass, it seems, crops up in many cultures around the world and her story varies considerably. It's hard to convey the fun that Rucker and Patterson generate with so simple a premise, but they had the audience howling. Charles Perault, the 17th century Frenchman, puts in an appearance; he's the gent who wrote down the story for the edification of the Versailles crowd under Louis XIV. But we also hear about a Chinese Cinderella, an Italian Cinderella, a grim (make that "Grimm") German Cinderella and so on. There is a magic talking fish and so many other fantastic quirks that a pair of glass slippers starts to sound normal.
Furthermore, we were informed by usually reliable sources, as we left Rivertown Rep, that the ex-stepsisters will reappear after each Cinderella performance in the future. We get two entertainments for the price of one -- thanks to the savagery of Katrina ... and the fastidiousness of the Mouse.
- Wicked behavior: The fine folks at Disney apparently had a problem with the gender-bending turns of Gary Rucker and Sean Patterson (flanking Courtney Andersen) in Rivertown Rep's current mounting of Cinderella.