By Patrick Hurley
Nearly twenty years after its premiere, Matthew Bourne’s dazzling production of Cinderella once again graces the stage of the Ahmanson theatre. The piece, like the choreographer/director himself, is still going strong, and is a great testament to the power of storytelling.
Set in London in 1940 during the German bombing campaign, this particular Cinderella finds its footing as not only a visceral movement piece, but also as a solidly constructed narrative that infuses humor and pathos into a well-worn, if somewhat clichéd story about true love.
This time around, for our heroine, however, the obstacles are much larger than we’ve probably ever seen. There is the expected abusive and awful step-sisters, and for this production, a few step-brothers. And, of course the cruel and vicious step-mother, portrayed with a deliciously drunken cruelty by Madelaine Brennan. Cinderella (Ashley Shaw) finds herself in the eve of the largest attack on English soil, unable to attend a ball that will be held at the Café De Paris. Taunted and teased by her disagreeable family, she dreams of a better life. When the rest of her family head out for the ball, she is visited and then aided by a mysterious and benevolent Angel, charismatically portrayed by Liam Mower. Transformed, Cinderella appears at the ball and meets a handsome British Pilot (Andrew Monaghan) After spending a night together, Cinderella and the Pilot find themselves separated by the bombings, and thus he begins his search to find her.
The production, which makes the most of the Prokofiev score, soars with dramatic flourish, but also highlights the many sardonic musical moments as well.
Director/Choreographer Matthew Bourne is able to create an entire world of theatrical narrative while at the same time designing a dance piece that beautifully blends dreamlike sequences with harsh realities, his genius is in the reinvention of the medium. This has a cinematic touch that requires the performers to not only move with the fluidity of a ballet, but also to do so in theatrical costumes, rather than the traditional ballet attire. And all of the actors have the acting chops to pull off non-verbal character arcs, not an easy feat when, in the middle of a ballet, there are physical comedy bits that are reminiscent of a silent movie. The style and music could clash, but is pulled off seamlessly thanks to a brilliant director and tremendously talented dancer/performers.
The glorious sets, designed by Lez Brotherston, who also designed the costumes, bring us into a world of fantasy, darkness and beauty all at once. Where a scene may open on the carnage of a bombing site, just moments later will be transformed into a lavish dance hall right in front of our eyes.
This production is thrilling, funny and beautiful, and a breath of fresh air for a theatregoer looking to be inspired, and taken away from the traditional and overwrought productions that sometimes fill the local stages. This demonstrates not only the power of great storytelling, but also the universal ability that theatre has to connect people through a language of storytelling that actually needs no words. It’s physical poetry, and will absolutely mesmerize you along the way.
Matthew Bourne’s ‘Cinderella’
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, through March 10 (check for exceptions)
Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Tickets: $30-$175 (subject to change)
Info: (213) 628-2772, centertheatregroup.org
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with two intermissions)