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Panto-Loons

FPCT’s Bawdy Take On Cinderella Gives New Meaning To “Mother Goose”

DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LADY: Melody Easton and John Ford Add Some Drag to a Classic.

By John Barry | Posted 12/15/2004

Cinderella: A Musical

Book By Kate Hawley and Music By Gregg Coffin

At Fells Point Corner Theatre through Dec. 19

Fells Point Corner Theatre’s version of Cinderella has its own ribald charm, with roots in Italian commedia dell’arte and British music-hall comedy. So if you’re expecting Cinderella served straight up, you may get a little shock. Little Bo Peep wears bondage gear, the wicked stepmother is a drag queen, Cinderella’s dad is a red-nosed tippler, and the Prince’s valet is a sleazy womanizer.

As FPCT makes clear, Cinderella: A Musical is a brief excursion into the “panto” theater tradition. Sometime in the late 17th century, Italians brought commedia dell’arte, complete with codpieces and coarse humor, to the shores of merrie olde England. Mother Goose arrived on the scene just in time, and thus was born the panto: a messy weaving together of fairy-tale plotlines, off-color jokes, off-key singing, cross-dressing, high-energy acting, and audience baiting.

As for the plot—well, we can get that out of the way fast. Cinderella is stuck in the woods, minus her original mom, surrounded by a wicked stepmother (described as “whore-rendous”) and two stepsisters, Regan and Goneril (pronounced “gonorrhea”). She’s waiting for her Prince Charming, sweeping up the cinders, and collecting firewood. Meanwhile, the King and Queen are looking for a wife for their son. Snow White is crossed from the list (she just sleeps around and lives with seven dwarfs) and Rapunzel is taken out of the running (she never cuts her hair). So then there’s Cinderella, who is in the grips of her stepmother.

But Prince Charming (Tom Slot) is a bit of a geek, whose subjects call him “Prissy Pants.” He doesn’t have much interest in girls, and prefers to stay up in his tower playing with his video games and whatever else he may have on hand. His best friend and valet Dandini (Jesse Swain) is a cigar-chomping double of Groucho Marx. His dad the king (Steve Antonsen) is a bumbling idiot who has stuck his mustache-ends into his ears to block out the nagging of his wife. Goneril (Ian Bonds) and Regan (Wayne Willinger) are two guys dressed as a pair of pug-ugly sisters who stumble over one another (and wind up swinging at each other) as they compete for the Prince. Bo Peep (Laurel Peyrot) is a socialist-leaning anti-royalist who prefers the blue-collar type of guy. Buttons (Sara Angelino) puts on a lively performance as an audience-baiting impresario.

Probably the closest we get to the trademark spirit of panto in this production is in the ample form of the hideous Mrs. Baden-Rotten, otherwise known as the wicked stepmother, played by John Ford. In a hybrid of Benny Hill and Divine, Ford dominates the evening with an over-the-top cross-dressing, costume-changing performance, which peaks with a climactic, full-throated rendition of “There’s Always Another One Waiting in the Wings.”

Cinderella herself is played more or less straight, and with winsome charm, by Melody Easton. There are a few moments of bitchiness and dazed dreaminess, but she’s an island of innocence in a dark forest of cross-dressing goons and geeks.

The singing itself doesn’t always hit the high notes—though Cinderella and Prince Charming both hold their own in that department—but that’s not really the point. This production of Cinderella is low on polish and high on energy. And although it might have done well in a beer hall, it’s probably just as well it didn’t, because the six-year-olds seemed to have as much fun with this cheerfully bastardized version of the classic as anyone else.

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