Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson presents Matthew Bourne’s “Cinderella” from February 5 to March 10, 2019. This cherished tale to Prokofiev’s thrilling discordant and brilliant music is a perfect partner to Bourne’s intensely acute re-make of this beloved allegory. He has placed this Cinderella in an upper middle-class English family, circa 1940 during the WWII Blitz in London.
The Overture begins with sirens and searchlights skirting the stage. The impressive Sets and Costumes designed by Lez Brotherston and the Sound Design by Paul Groothuis makes this a highly visual and sensory experience. At the start, the details are unnoticed through the din of audience conversation, then with flashes of light, and silence, it becomes an unnerving experience as we are transported back to the ravages of WWII. Pathé newsreels announce the German onslaught and “What to do in an air raid.” Images of the burning city surrounds the stage, and like a phantom in a film noir movie, a young woman, the story’s namesake, played by the enchanting actress/dancer of “The Red Shoes” fame, Ashley Shaw, emerges through the smoke. She wears a grey toned sweater, pleated skirt and horned rimmed glasses. She walks forward step-by-step through the chaos. A cold blue spot follows her like a partner. She stops, searches, then the lights slowly fade to black. On the scrim the words, “Cinderella… London, 1940.”
The ticks of the clock move us through time to Cinder’s family and home, with its cast of stylized characters all dressed in gray tones as if in a black and white movie. Three brothers are introduced; Malcolm (Jackson Fisch) an effete men’s clothing designer, Vernon (Daniel Wright), the sizeable bespectacled brother with a foot fetish, Elliott (Stephen Murray) the youngest of the tricksters in beany and short pants. The two Sisters, Irene (Sophia Hurdley) and Vivien (Angiali Mehra) bustle about the stage tormenting Cinderella and her father. Bourne’s staging is a logistical and musical miracle, managing to highlight each character while making sure the designs, and lighting by Neil Astin, expose the unique and often humorous relationships.
Sybil, the libidinous Stepmother, divinely played by Madelaine Brennan is portrayed with elegance and tongue-in-cheek humor. She’s definitely the leader of the pack of disruptors. Cinder’s father, although the benefactor of all their extravagances, is wheelchair bound, and has been relegated to a corner near the fireplace. He is a kind of pawn for this wily Step-family. Cinderella’s protection of him, even over herself, seems a constant, reflected in a lyrically beautiful wheelchair Pas de Deux.
Finally, invitations arrive for the elegant Cafe de Paris. Cinderella is not included. Her mind wanders to a possible chance meeting of a prince charming. It is only a dream until the arrival of her fairy godfather, (Liam Mower) who so beautifully creates a magical world where wishes come true. Her vision arrives in the form of a wounded Pilot, a lithe, handsome, yet broken, Harry, played by Andrew Monaghan.
With the exposition and characters clarified, the story takes on the risks and immediacy of wartime. Blackouts, crumbling buildings falling apart in front of our eyes.
The second act breathes life into the devastated bombing of Café de Paris, with corpses strewn across fallen ceilings and collapsed stairwells. The fairy godfather restores the ravages to a time of elegance where classy couples glided across the floor. He also re-imagines Cinderella, into an exquisite vision of feminine grace. She floats down stairways, across the floor and charms all, including her young officer, where in the next scene the audience, like voyeurs, view the sultry and stirring pas de deux with Cinder and her prince.
Act three takes us through the Streets of London, the Underground, Thames Embarkment, the hospital, an attempt at murder, and Paddington Station, where the couple finally leaves to live their happily-ever-after life.
This adventurous version of this classic leaves everyone on the edge of their seat. It is not to be missed for it’s well thought out plots and connections, powerful themes integrated with remembrances, it’s brilliant musicality and dramatic choreography, its sense of joy and humor, and for its hope and resolution. This leaves the audience standing for one last curtain call… and jitterbug. Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella is a joyous impressive endeavor that excites and feast our eyes and senses. This theatrical endowment definitely needs to be seen for its brilliant intelligent re-make of this classic tale.
Cinderella continues at the Ahmanson Theater through March 10, 2019, for information and tickets, click here.
For more information on Matthew Bourne’s New/Adventures, click here.
Featured image: Matthew Bourne’s “Cinderella” – Andrew Monaghan as Harry, Ashley Shaw as Cinderella and The Company – Photo: Johan Persson