Reviews: Vancouver’s Theatre Under the Stars Dazzles with Cinderella and 42nd Street

Tré Cotten (Topher) and Mallory James (Ella); Photo Credit: Lindsay Elliott

Seeing one or both of the productions of Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) has become a Vancouver ritual in the summer. For seventy-eight years, theatregoers have gathered in Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park to watch musicals, with the forest around them and the darkening sky above them.

This year proves no different. Two top-notch productions, Cinderella and 42nd Street, run on alternate nights until August 18, 2018, and both very much warrant watching, for different reasons.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Mallory James (Ella); Photo Credit: Lindsay Elliott

Out of the two works, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella has the broadest family appeal. After all, who doesn’t find themselves enchanted by the heady promises of a fairytale, especially in a version that was set to music by the virtuoso duo behind other shows like Carousel, South Pacific, and The King and I? Numbers like “Impossible; It’s Possible” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” are eminently singable and memorable, making for an overall delightful listening experience.

: L to R – Caitlin Clugston (Madame), Mallory James (Ella), Amanda Lourenco (Charlotte),Vanessa Merenda (Gabrielle); Photo Credit: Lindsay Elliott

This production is based on the 2013 New Book by Douglas Beane for the musical’s first Broadway appearance. It’s an ambitious undertaking in its melding of 21st century sensibility with the traditional Cinderella storyline. While ‘the lowly girl becomes a princess’ concept still has considerable appeal for many, it has become outdated for others. The updates in this musical are many, including diverse casting, Cinderella ‘saving’ the prince from his own privileged ignorance, and the ‘commoners’ put in the spotlight to band together against upper class injustice and oppression.

The result is a hybrid production, but one that is highly refreshing. Audience members get to be swept away by the romance of love at first sight and lavish ball gowns while also not losing sight of class politics and the ludicrousness of loving someone for their superficial beauty. And it’s all done in a tongue-in-cheek, entertaining fashion.

Mallory James (Ella) and Laura Cowan (Marie); Photo Credit: Lindsay Elliott

The cast for Cinderella is very talented on the vocal and dancing front, making the show a pleasure to listen to and watch. Particular props go to Laura Cowan who plays Marie/The Fairy Godmother for her enchanting singing, Mallory James in her spunky portrayal of (Cinder)Ella, and Caitlin Clugston who finds the perfect balance of spitefulness and wit in her role as Madame (Stepmother). Strong vocals also come from Tré Cotton as Topher (the modernized prince), as well as Caleb Lagayan who revels in the operatics of Lord Pinkleton. In terms of dance, the waltzing numbers of the Prince’s ball are especially lovely to watch.

At the end of the day, any mounting of Cinderella requires a certain suspension of disbelief and surrendering to the magic of the fairytale (sorry, cynics). Despite the 21st century revamp, we’re located in a timeless era in which fairy godmothers exist and appear when they’re desired the most. And judging by the animated chatter of some of the younger audience members, TUTS has managed to keep that sparkle alive.

42nd Street

Blake Sartin (Billy Lawlor, in gold vest, left) with the cast of 42nd Street; Photo Credit: Lindsay Elliott

It’s hard not to be caught up in the razzle dazzle enthusiasm of 42nd Street. This is showbiz on stage in all its toe tapping, lyric-belting glory. The beloved musical nostalgically recreates a heyday of Broadway productions, and is given fresh life in TUTS’s vibrant mounting of it.

Paige Fraser (Peggy, in blue romper), Janet Gigliotti (Dorothy, in red pants), Blake Sartin (Billy Lawlor, in sweater vest) with the cast of 42nd Street; Photo Credit: Lindsay Anderson

Visually, those behind set and costume design (Brian Ball and Christina Sinosich, respectively) succeed wonderfully in transporting the audience back to 1930s New York and Philadelphia. The stage breathes the era, from the outfits and hairstyles to the backdrops for the musical Pretty Lady within the musical. Well-known songs like “42nd Street,” “We’re in the Money,” and “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” are also a nod to the musical sensibilities of the 30s.

Paige Fraser (Peggy), Blake Sartin (Billy Lawlor); Photo Credit: Lindsay Elliott

The premise is a classic rags to stardom tale of an idealistic small-town girl Peggy Sawyer who dreams of getting a role in iconic Julian Marsh’s latest glitzy Broadway production. Meanwhile, ‘has-been’ Dorothy Brock is attempting to make a comeback by playing the main role while also juggling the conflicting yearnings of her heart.

The energetic main cast and ensemble display their tap dancing skills in many an impressively and intricately choreographed number. It all makes for lively watching, culminating in scenes from Pretty Lady, easily the visual highlight of the night. Audience members can understand why Peggy is so beguiled by the dream of Broadway despite the toil, sacrifice, and merciless disposability of its members.

The strongest vocals come from Janet Gigliotti who plays Dorothy Brock, perfectly capturing the character’s mixture of weariness, cynicism, but also spirited resilience. Her solo performances (eg “I Know Now”) display rich singing, as well as an emotionality that adds depth and nuance to the glitter of showbiz. Paige Fraser does a great job of embodying Peggy Sawyer’s plucky can-do ambitions while Andrew Cownden as Julian Marsh becomes the overarching presence of the stage. His larger-than-life personality and booming voice are Broadway. Cownden effectively conveys to the audience Marsh’s disillusionments and renewed hopes as he watches and helps cultivate Peggy’s newfound career.

Paige Fraser (Peggy, in purple dress) with the cast of 42nd Street; Photo Credit: Lindsay Elliott

The result is a spirited and 30s-era jolt of brassy wonder. Audience members might find themselves singing and tap dancing their way home.

Further information and tickets can be found on-line.

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