When the cat’s away…

Cinderella’s Mice

Music and lyrics by Ben Morss
Book and additional lyrics by Justin Warner
Directed by David Hilder
Choreography by Danielle Quisenberry
Music Direction by Rick Hip-Flores
Vital Theatre Company/Sun Productions (212/579-0528; www.vitaltheatre.org)
McGinn Cazle Theater (2162 Broadway)
Equity showcase (closes May 14)
Review by Michael D. Jackson

An entertaining new take on the Cinderella story by the Vital Children’s Theatre is a fine offering for young children. This new musical is known as Cinderella’s Mice and retells the familiar tale from the rodents’ point of view. Spencer and Mitzi are the mice with a personal ambition to raid the upcoming royal ball, curtailed by their sudden transformation into horses. The mice were played with sweetness and terrific energy by Marc de la Concha and Kara Swartz. Spencer’s quest to get a bite out of the buffet at the ball is the main thrust of the story, told side by side with a fractured version of the traditional story. Andrea Biggs played the Stepmother with relish. The Stepsisters (Bridget Harvey and Kyle Minshew in an English Pantomime casting) were perhaps the most colorful characters, stealing the show. Cinderella (Mary McLellan) seems to be facing more roadblocks to her dance with the prince than we are used to. These complexities might have been eschewed to keep the focus on the mice, though their concern for helping Cinderella meet the Prince rightly takes precedence over the selfish goal of making a meal of the buffet. Justin Stoney, as the Prince and other characters, distinguished himself with good voice and a knack for snap changes in character. The authors gave him plenty of silly business to wrestle with, which he did with enough energy and commitment that the lunacy read as believable.

The songs, by Ben Morss, took on a contemporary musical-theatre sound, mostly sprightly in spirit, with several comic turns for the stepsisters as well as a chef (also played by Minshew). Morss asked his Cinderella to sing in a register that at times lacked projection, when the material might have been tailored to the actress’s strengths. Overall, the singing performances were uneven, though quite serviceable for ballooned storybook characters. The book, by Justin Warner, is novel and original, giving the adults a few laughs as well as entertaining the children, though it tended to lose focus by diverting into extended sequences of Looney Tune shenanigans.

Zhanna Gurvich’s set was a simple idea of painted screens, able to roll and turn as needed to represent the several places needed. Amy Kitzhaber’s costumes included lovely ball gowns, popping with color, and a simulated version of mice with little ears and vests. An attachment of a horse’s behind with dangling back legs easily turned the mice into horses. The Prince, for his only outfit, seemed to wear the one incomplete design, lacking the polish of royalty.

Children should enjoy this different version of a familiar story. The pace was brisk, and there was plenty of action to keep everyone involved. The production, under David Hilder’s direction, might have put more care into the finishing details that make a fantasy story fantastic, but there was plenty of fun in this simple tale.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2006 Michael D. Jackson