Blake Sartin as Billy Lawlor with cast of 42nd Street. Photo by Lindsay Elliot.

Malkin Bowl, Vancouver

42nd Street – July 12, 2018

Cinderella – July 17, 2018

The Malkin Bowl at Stanley Park is once again filled with song and dance for the annual Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) productions. This year, professional and pre-professional artists perform a Broadway classic – 42nd Street, and a modern take on the traditional fairytale, Cinderella.

42nd Street is a blissfully cheery story of putting on a Broadway show called Pretty Lady in the midst of America’s Great Depression. Based on a novel written in 1932 by Bradford Ropes and adapted into this Broadway musical in 1980, the show is filled with catchy melodies (music and lyrics by Harry Warrens and Al Dubin) and dazzling tap dancing numbers that will leave everyone in a good mood.

Peggy Sawyer, performed by Paige Fraser, is a small-town girl with lots of talent and Broadway dreams. After an unfortunate injury to the star of Pretty Lady, Dorothy Brock, performed by Janet Gigliotti, Sawyer lands the leading role and her stellar performance saves the show from closure. It’s a happy ending for Brock too, who realizes that the love of her life is really her secret romantic interest, Pat Denning, performed by Matthias Falvai, and not show business. Gigliotti is the standout talent, who has the expressive voice and stage presence of a seasoned performer. Fraser is true to her character, a good singer and dancer who begins with innocence and enthusiasm, and turns a more mature confidence when she takes on the starring role from Brock. The happy tap dance numbers were choreographed by Shelley Stewart Hunt, and danced wholeheartedly by the ensemble, led by an expressive Colin Humphrey, who plays the role of the choreographer. He leads the big dance numbers with ease, confidence and precision, then dashes about to obediently fulfill the commands of the show’s director Julian Marsh, performed by Andrew Cownden.

Tré Cotton as Prince Topher and Mallory James as Ella in Cinderella. Photo by Lindsay Elliot.

Cinderella, is based on the recent roadway rendition, written in 2013 by Douglas Carter Beane, with the songs by Rogers and Hammerstein that were written in 1957. This mix of old and new throughout the whole show resulted in a presentation that was more inconsistent than innovative. Though the main story arc is preserved, many of the modern updates feel like a deliberate plug for political correctness.

Cinderella, named Ella and performed by an endearing Mallory James, is enslaved by her spiteful stepmother, performed well by Caitlin Clugston, and stepsisters, Gabrielle and Charlotte, performed charismatically by Vanessa Merenda and Amanda Lourenco. By the magic of a Fairy Godmother, performed by crystal-voiced Laura Cowan, a beautiful gown and pumpkin carriage, Ella meets Prince Topher, performed by Tré Cotton, at the royal ball, and the story ends with their royal wedding.

However, the subplot, where Ella’s support for the village revolutionary, Jean-Michel, performed by Daniel Curalli, leads to the Prince’s declaration of a democracy in the kingdom, is not fully developed and seems out of place. There is also a not-so-subtle statement for diversity in the traditional African and Asian dress worn by some members of the royal court, perhaps representing a multicultural kingdom, and yet, all the gowns worn by the ladies attending the royal ball were uniformly western – corset and tulle skirts in pastel colours.  

The most clever update is when Ella deliberately leaves her glass slipper in her second midnight departure, which shows her doing exactly what a modern woman would do – take charge of her own destiny. While songs marked the speedy evolution of her character – from humbly singing ‘In My Own Little Corner’ in the beginning of the first act, to being inspired to dream big by her Fairy Godmother by the end of the first act, together singing this musical’s most memorable song ‘Impossible / It’s Possible’ – her tone and language didn’t quite reflect this progression.

Fortunately, most of the performers carried their roles well, particularly James, Clugston, Merenda and Cowan. Despite that, this production lacks the whimsy and rêverie of fairytales, and, if it is to be a story about empowerment, diversity and civil liberties, there are other stories which tell it much better.

If one must choose between this year’s shows at TUTS, I’d put my money on 42nd Street.