Friday, December 11, 2015

RWS 'Cinderella' in Review - 10 Dec 2015

Belgium-based Music Hall's new retelling of the Cinderella tale is high-quality entertainment for families. A great cast of talents sang, acted and danced beautifully around simple but detailed sets, filling up the huge RWS Theatre stage with lots of energy. This production, directed by Karina Mertens with mostly original music by Ad van Dijk and Matt Dunkley, was first produced in Belgium where it was a hit. The version now playing in Singapore has its lyrics translated to English from its original Flemish. Its a mish-mash of cultural references, starting from its fairytale scenery to its dance numbers in pop and jazz styles, punchlines referencing British royalty and a fiery ending that is reminiscent of Don Giovanni.

The Cinderella story holds no surprises for its viewers, and this retelling is mostly faithful to what we know (from Disney or elsewhere). While lots of physical humour kept the audience entertained, what sets this production apart its focus on the protagonist's relationship to her Mother. This time, 'Mama' (played by Deborah de Ridder) is no mere passing whisper but is an active participant of the plot in a spiritual form. Her exchanges with Cinderella  (or Louise in this production, played by Charlotte Campion) is the true heart of the show.

Upping the camp factor is the child-like Prince (Caleb Vines) and his minions, with his temper tantrums at being surrounded by yes men and his over-protective Nanny (Wanda Joosten). Equal parts funny but at times horrific are Sara de Smedt as the Stepmother and Saartje van Houtte and Dorien Schrijnemakers as the stepsisters, unsubtly titled in this production respectively as 'Distressa' and 'Grimella'. This production has them portrayed as bullies right from the beginning, not only verbally but physically abusing Cinderella and her father when he is still alive, which makes one wonder what he found appealing in the Stepmother to marry her in the first place.

Binding it all together is the narrator-figure of the Reporter, played by Nordin de Moor, who delivered his long and difficult role with great energy and precision. Laura Maurer-Stroh (the only locally-based cast member and trained at Madison Academy of Music, according to her bio) captured the hearts of audience early on with her portrayal of a young Louise grieving for her recently deceased mother.

With a cast of non-native speakers, its natural that some accents might creep in from some cast members, and that some speech patterns of the English translation might fit awkwardly with the music. Nonetheless, it shouldn't distract from the high energy performance of the combined ensemble.

Of the music, the largely original tunes is in an accessible pop-rock style, with an interesting harpsichord part in its orchestration (prerecorded but sung live). There is some good musical writing in the ensemble numbers as well. Leitmotivs (repeated musical themes associated with each character) pepper the show throughout, particularly the celesta theme associated with Mama. Fans of jukebox musicals will be happy to recognise some famous hits, craftily rearranged to fit the show's musical aesthetic yet maintaining their original flavour, and used appropriately at suitable plot points.

So this production of Cinderella has something for everyone, from kids to grownups, casual theatre goers and seasoned attendees. Check out the Events Page to find out how to get tickets!

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