During the first act of Cinderella at the Children's Theatre Company, the wicked — and extremely goofy — stepmother fires a pistol in the air to get her two daughters to stop fighting for just a second. Out of the rafters, a duck and a chicken fall.
This gives the trio occasion to do a quick round of the "The Chicken Dance" before the fight resumes. One more shot is fired to quiet them down.
And this time a cow, complete with "x's" over its eyes, drops down.
CINDERELLA Children's Theatre Company 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis Through Jan. 5; 612-874-0400
The CTC edition of the beloved fairy tale — adapted by John B. Davidson and directed by Peter C. Brosius — takes its cues from English panto, that distinct theatrical style that jumbles and jams a whole host of styles together into one holiday confection.
The style gives a terrific cast a perfect opportunity to showcase their skills. If you want broad comedy, CTC stars Autumn Ness, Reed Sigmund, and Dean Holt are there with the wild antics of Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters, Dorcas and Pearl. If you want romance and hope, you will find it in the main storyline with the title character (Traci Allen) and her Prince (Nathan Barlow). And if you want some warm holiday cheer, there are the songs and dances of the framing story, in which a kindly grandfather (Gerald Drake) shares the tale with his granddaughter during a Christmas celebration. The base plotline is pretty slight — a downtrodden but spirited young woman gets her wish, goes to a ball, and then captures the attention of a handsome prince — which gives plenty of space to build a full, two-hour show.
Allen is magnetic as Cinderella, merging weary innocence with a grace that needs only a beautiful gown to be brought out for everyone to see. While this isn't a production based on anything from the real world, her character certainly is fully realized. It's a performance that carries plenty of dramatic weight, which adds a real heart to all the frantic comedy.
She is well matched by Barlow, who pines for the mysterious ball guest by singing Bruno Mars's "I Should Have Brought You Flowers." (Pop music plays a role in panto as well, including choruses of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and other recent and not-so-recent hits.)
Still, it's the garish costumes (courtesy of Eduardo Sicangco, who also designed the sumptuous sets) and outsized personalities of the stepmother and her daughters that keep the humor flowing throughout the show. All three are gifted comic actors and all get moments to showcase their distinct talents.
These comedic moments play out in a steady stream of physical comedy and gender-bending lead roles, plenty of comic asides and very bad puns from Ness, and a general sense of Three Stooges-like mayhem. The trio arrives at the elegant ball like trailer-trash gatecrashers, decked out in their "finery," ready to tailgate their way through the party. The slipper scene intensifies this, as each of them gets a comic solo as they try — and fail — to slip on the glass shoe.
The humor and heartfelt love story are wrapped together by a staging that builds on the sense of magic and wonder, a whimsical feeling magnified by Elizabeth Griffith's performance as the Fairy Godmother and buoyed by Eric Van Wyk's delightful mouse and bird puppets. The panto style fits perfectly with the classic Cinderella story. And while all the different elements jostle for space, none of them dominates in a way that unbalances the whole experience.