`Cinderella' is presented as a panto

THEATER

December 16, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Fell's Point Corner Theatre is trying something different for the holidays - a British-style pantomime.

"Pantos," as they are called, have nothing to do with mimes (although this one does include some actors in whiteface). Instead, these shows are slapstick comedies based on fairy tales and generally feature a couple of characters played in drag.

Cinderella, the panto at Fell's Point Corner, actually originated in California. Written in 1999 by Kate Hawley, with music by Gregg Coffin, it includes topical references - some clearly updated here - ranging from Game Boys to Paris Hilton.

In one of its other departures from the standard fairy tale, it also includes a character named Buttons, a male acquaintance of Cinderella's, endearingly played by Sara Angelino. In one scene, Buttons does a nifty dance with a bear (Barb Gehring); in another, he breaks into an evangelical riff; and in every one of Buttons' appearances, Angelina's engaging manner helps younger audience members feel like part of the show.

While Buttons plays to the youngsters, John W. Ford, as Cinderella's mean stepmother, called Mrs. Baden-Rotten, plays to the grown-ups (at one point, making an overt play for a gentleman in the audience).

Whether coifed in a fire-engine red wig or a sunshine yellow beehive, this amply padded wicked stepmama makes Dame Edna look demure. And, Ford's deep-voiced, torchy renditions of Mrs. Baden-Rotten's songs are a raucous pleasure that transcends age and gender.

Wayne Willinger and Ian Bonds can't compete with "mom" in the over-the-top department, but they make an appropriately oafish pair of evil stepsisters.

The lead roles of Cinderella (Melody Easton), her Fairy Godmother (Julie Bratton) and Prince Charming (Tom Slot) are played relatively straight (in all senses of the word), and they can't help but come off a bit colorless. But even these characters get to cut up occasionally.

For most theatergoers, director Linda McClary's jaunty production will be their introduction to pantos. And this particular English trifle should please the palates of all ages.

Show times at Fell's Point Corner, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, with matinees at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $14 for adults; $6 for children under 12. Call 410-276-7837.

Scrooge city

The production of Scrooge at the Hippodrome is hardly the only Christmas Carol in town - or even the only musical one. And the Creative Alliance's A Baltimore Christmas Carol, a small-scale version set in modern-day Charm City, certainly sounded like one of the more innovative and amusing.

But despite references to Formstone and crabs, Hampden and Govans, local writer Geoffrey Himes adds few insights and hardly any mirth to Dickens' tale. A running gag about the size of Scrooge's nose, for example, is barely funny the first time and isn't enhanced by repetition.

Though Larry Ellinghaus and Cynthia Scott imbue their various roles with a Bawlamerse patois, Himes' portrayal of Scrooge is too stiff - even for a character who's an old stiff. Nor does Dave Manning's largely static direction do much to liven things up.

Some of the music (by Stephen Wade, Alan Seeley and Himes) has a nice bluegrass feel, and instrumentalists Carl Conn and Alan Diem deliver the show's best performances (they also do yeoman's work during the lengthy scene changes).

According to a lyric in one of the show's carols, "Nothing's quite as merry as Christmas in Baltimore." Maybe so, but you wouldn't guess it from this show.

Show times at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave., are 7:30 p.m. today, 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $18; $12 for children under 12. Call 410-276-1651.

Grant for Center Stage

Center Stage is one of six regional theaters to receive a $600,000 challenge grant from the Leading National Theatres Program, jointly administered by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant will be used to strengthen the theater's endowment and must be matched by Sept. 30, 2007.

The other recipients, announced yesterday, are Actors Theatre of Louisville, in Kentucky; American Repertory Theatre, in Cambridge, Mass.; Intiman Theatre, in Seattle; The Public Theater in New York; and Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

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