"There's nothing better than a good old-fashioned exercise for your imagination," the Fairy Godmother says at the beginning of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella." Director Mark Waldrop has taken that advice to heart in Olney Theatre's delightfully imaginative production.
Near the start of the show, Deb G. Girdler, as the Fairy Godmother, inserts a large gold key into a stained-glass box on one side of the stage. When the key starts turning, the rest of the cast jolts into action, like figurines in a music box. But though the actors move like mechanical toys during the overture, there's nothing mechanical about the rest of this charming show.
"Cinderella" is the only musical Rodgers and Hammerstein created specifically for television. But if your familiarity with it comes from the stilted 1965 remake starring Lesley Ann Warren, you'll find this version -- based on Hammerstein's original 1957 script -- very refreshing.
It also has an encouraging lesson to impart to the "children of all ages" who make up audiences at holiday offerings of this sort. Follow your dreams, Girdler's Ethel Merman-esque Fairy Godmother advises Cinderella, as she transforms the doubting kitchen maid into the belle of the royal ball. Later, the same reasoning persuades the prince to search for the owner of the glass slipper.
But fun, not lessons, is what will keep youngsters in their seats and grown-ups grinning at Olney. More than a few of those grins are earned by Karlah Hamilton as Cinderella's mean stepmother and Chan McQuay and Sherri L. Edelen as her stepsisters. With their mouths permanently downturned and their gowns as garish as their behavior, these three are as sour as Cinderella is sweet (as the Fairy Godmother points out).
One of the funniest moments comes when gawky Edelen and cloddish McQuay deliver the "Stepsisters' Lament," in which they wonder what Cinderella has that they don't. It's also one of the most acerbic moments. "She's a frothy little bauble/with a flimsy kind of charm,/and with very little trouble,/I could break her little arm," McQuay sings. Anyone who wonders how Hammerstein's pupil, Stephen Sondheim, made the leap to his dark fairy-tale musical "Into the Woods" from his mentor's sugar-coated fare has forgotten that Hammerstein wrote lyrics like this.
The "Lament" is followed by one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's loveliest songs, "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" Unfortunately, neither Christine Siracusa, as Cinderella, nor Michael Sharp, as her prince, do this duet justice -- a shortcoming all the more apparent in contrast with the vocal command with which Helen Hedman, as the Queen, sings the reprise.
Rosemary Pardee's costumes and Daniel Conway's sets enhance the storybook aura of director Waldrop's production, just as Carole Graham Lehan's choreography enhances the sense of fun. Olney regulars may recall that Waldrop was a co-creator of last spring's Cole Porter revue, "Hot 'n' Cole." "Cinderella," however, is as enchanting as "Cole" was crass -- so much so that it's difficult to believe the same man had a hand in both shows. This one, by the way, is an area premiere, and based on the appealing results, it's long overdue.
Where: Olney Theatre, 2001 Route 108, Olney
When: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. today and tomorrow; 2 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21-Dec. 23; 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Dec. 24; 1 p.m. Dec. 26-Dec. 31; and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 26, Dec. 29 and Dec. 30; through Dec. 31
Tickets: $28 for adults; $14 for children 16 and under
Call: (301) 924-3400