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Theater review: 'Cinderella Christmas' at the El Portal

December 23, 2011 | 11:38 am

“Cinderella Christmas” at the El Portal
Traditional British panto is a long time coming to this coast.  Other than a few isolated instances in distant memory, panto seems to have eluded L.A. theatergoers almost entirely.

That deficit is finally redressed with “Cinderella Christmas” at the El Portal.  Those who have never been to a panto will have a glorious introduction to the form.  And those native Brits longing for a taste of tradition will find much to delight in this rollicking entertainment.

“Cinderella,” which follows the just-closed “A Snow White Christmas,” also at the El Portal, is a recast reprise of a 2010 run.  The show contains all the traditional elements of panto, including much music, naughty double-entendres, and, of course, plenty of over-the-top, Monty Python-esque drag, all loosely supported by the framework of a classic fairy tale, fractured in this case, by writer Kris Lythgoe.

A star turn is also traditional to panto, and Fred Willard supplies that requirement as Cinderella's father, Baron Hardup, a downtrodden noble whose travel agency has gone belly-up in hard economic times.  Beloved since the days of “Fernwood Tonight,” Willard is a wry, dry, stalwart presence who gets a big laugh just sitting at a table. 

A lesser but no less radiant luminary is Shoshana Bean (“Wicked”) as the Fairy Godmother.  A Connie Francis look-alike with a glass-shattering voice, Bean makes for a delightfully earthy fairy.  “American Idol” finalist David Hernandez couples terrific singing with comic skills as servant to the Prince, played by lanky, funny Nico Evers-Swindell.  Dulcet-voiced Veronica Dunne is a suitably lovely Cinderella, while musical comedy vet Todd Buonopane does double duty, fracturing tiny tykes' hearts as Buttons, Cinderella's lovelorn best pal, while scoring huge laughs in his impromptu interactions with pint-sized audience volunteers.

For comic relief and requisite villainy, Mark Edgar Stephens and Jeff Sumner shine as the evil, man-hungry stepsisters, Cowel and Seecrest (get it?)  Outrageously attired throughout, the blissfully naughty duo stop the show when they arrive at the Prince's ball clad, respectively, as a pudding and a Christmas turkey.

Director Bonnie Lythgoe, ably assisted by choreographer Mark Ballas (“Dancing with the Stars”) and musical director Michael Orland, presides over this sumptuous Christmas diversion. A few late entrances and a botched quick change did nothing to dampen the spirits of the opening night crowd, which included a bevy of enthusiastic children, waving swords and wands and doing their all to help Cinderella -– perhaps the most magical element of the evening.

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-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Cinderella Christmas,” El Portal, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.  Through Jan. 8.  (Call for schedule.)  (866) 811-4111. www.elportaltheatre.com. $34-$54.  Running time:  2 hours.

Photo: Todd Buonopane, Fred Willard, Mark Edgar Stephens, Jeff Sumner. Credit. Lythgoe Family Productions.


 
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