OWTK PHILLY LOCAL: A Reimagined Cinderella At The Arden Theatre

We could have just as easily skipped this one. Disappointment in their last (Robin Hood) mixed with ambivalence (at best) about their current (Cinderella) had me ‘meh’ about the prospects for the ’12-’13 children’s season at The Arden.  I get that they can’t all be Flea & The Professor and The Borrowers (before the Arrietty movie.)  I understand the financial necessity to have a recognizable title on the marquee every once in a while, and respect the delicate balance between that very real bookkeeping concern and the creative team’s inherent artistic desire to push their audience’s boundaries.  But Cinderella? Gag me with a glass slipper.

But then came the blurb, that simple subtext beneath the show’s title on the promotional material. One sentence and I was in a tizzy, eager to see what my favorite theater company was capable of doing with one of my least favorite stories in the little girl cannon.

A defiant prince in disguise meets a strong-willed Cinderella in this adventurous adaptation – featuring a great bit of magic and set to the music of Mozart.

I mean, c’mon! It’s like it was written just for me to read!


Elements of the macabre and the absurd mingle unassumingly like toddlers on a playground during The Arden Theatre’s daring reinvention of the classic princess and glass slipper tale, Cinderella. The production sets its hooks in you quickly and doesn’t let go until the audience Q&A with the house lights up at the very end.

The surprising Eyes Wide Shut creepiness of the opening scene is enough to jar an audience, to push each child and adult either to the edge, or to the very back, of their chair. The impact of the sudden dose of non-calmness sets the table perfectly for the 90 minutes of madcap adventure noir that follows. The play’s decidedly sinister tone is undercut by the pop-art modernism of Mozart, yes that Mozart, as he hams it up good for the gigglers in the crowd. Add in a goofball King who’s self-imposed exile is not nearly as calamitous as it sounds once you come to realize that this particular voluntary imprisonment takes place between his rancid royal bed linens, and you have a fast-paced and slightly haunting retelling of one of the most told stories of all time.

All Cinderella Photos by Mark Garvin

Cinderella, played with a beautiful rage + fragility by Mary Tuomanen, is positively fraught with misery. Her anguish is palatable, as seen in her mood, her plain hair, and even plainer grayscale clothing, because her father sells her out to find comfort in the arms of another women (100% kid friendly stuff here, save for a somewhat uncomfortable bedroom remark by the historically rotten stepsisters), and because her new-found and thoroughly unwanted relations treat her like the help — that much will seem familiar to fans of the famous princess. Our heroine doesn’t take her situation lightly and doesn’t take it lying down either.  This Cinderella is a fighter, a rebel, and a strong-willed leading lady that is actually inspiring. There are no sparkly pink tiaras or glittery gowns on the Arden stage, for this is a grittier, more daring version of Cinderella.

Instead of the typical Disneyfication, what you get at the Arden is an enchanting stage with magical lighting and shadow puppetry that deftly moves the action along in several key scenes, a nifty trick with the traditional missing footwear bit that levels the girl/boy playing field cleverly, a mysterious fairy godmother/magic talking bird that instantly had the four of us thinking about Bill Harley’s “Jack and the Singing Leaves” story, genuine and comical young love interaction between the prince-in-disguise and the disgruntled princess-to-be, and a Mama Rose / Gypsy-worthy stage mother performance in the form of Cinderella’s ruthless step-mom.

The Arden’s Cinderella is a triumph of will, of love, and of a magical sense of youthful exuberance, that even a stinky King (both literally and figuratively speaking) couldn’t stand in the way of.

The show runs through the end of January and is perfect for all children, both boys and girls, from ages 4 on up.  Also, the gift of live theater would look great under the tree or in a stocking – hint, hint!!

Tickets for Cinderella, including several Target-sponsored 2-for-1 dates and a pair of ASL Interpreted ones, are available here.

*OWTK received tickets to the Opening Night performance of Cinderella.  The opinions above are honest and unbiased, as always.

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