With some saying a variant of her story dates all the way to antiquity, Cinderella has long resided in the public domain. Certain aspects of her story — a single prince, a couple of cackling stepsisters and a mean stepmom — are de rigueur. But how, when and why Cinderella goes to the ball varies widely.
The non-Equity Emerald City Theatre production of "Cinderella," now playing mornings at the Broadway Playhouse under the direction of Ernie Nolan, is a very jokey, campy telling of this story, which strikes me as a strange choice for the target demographic of 3- to 10-year-olds. Aside from a talking rat, we've got a couple of guys in drag playing the stepsisters and a prince's valet who seems very jealous of Cinderella, or anyone else who might bring about the loss of his "job" with the prince. I'm all for humor and acknowledging the pantomime traditions of this piece, but, taken together, this trio strikes me as a bit much, when kids would benefit more from seeing more positive gay-parenting role models.
There's also a certain lack of romance in the air. Writers (this version is by Alyn Cardarelli, Emerald City's in-house scribe) tend to tie themselves in knots trying to update the very retro story of handsome prince sweeping the servant girl off her tiny feet, and so it goes here. Cinderella, played by Missy Karle, has a certain verisimilitude, which is appealing, and she sings the original Steve Goers numbers very well: "Magical Me" is a lovely number. And Nolan directs with plenty of life.
But he's still stuck with a very conventional script that offers few surprises and even fewer genuinely truthful moments, and that never really delivers the tension at the core of the story. The whole slipper business is pretty much nixed; that's fair enough if you have a viable alternative, but there just is not enough of a dramatic center, a pressing need beyond that of the valet, to really grab the kids in the house with something fresh and vital. And with taped rather than live musicians, this feels like a low-budget enterprise for a downtown show in a commercial house. Even 3-year olds deserve their music live when they come downtown.
When: Through Jan. 6
Where: Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St.
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Tickets: $16-$22 at 312-977-1710 or broadwayinchicago.com