For kids and parents, Cinderella slides neatly into the summer slot's slipper

Summer shows at Boulder's Dinner Theatre are family-friendly events, intended to hold the wandering (and wondering) attention of children, and this year's Cinderella is no exception. Created by Rodgers and Hammerstein for television in the 1950s, it's charming, sweet and slight.

Once again — as he did so notably for Ragtime, when he teamed with the late Jeffrey Nickelson of Shadow Theatre Company — artistic director Michael J. Duran has reached beyond the confines of his usual contingent of skilled actors to poach a talent from another company, casting Jenna Bainbridge of PHAMALY (the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League) in the leading role. Bainbridge is partially paralyzed from the waist down and has a halting gait. These characteristics add depth and poignancy to this well-known story, and make Cinderella's treatment at the hands of her sisters and stepmother seem doubly cruel. But Bainbridge is also a talented singer and actress, who communicates a sense of profound inner strength and never plays for pathos. One of the most pleasant moments on the night I attended came after the show, when a horde of little girls in fancy dresses and glittery tiaras swarmed the stage to get close to Bainbridge, their ideal fairy princess, and have their photographs taken with her.

The script is as rudimentary as you'd expect of a decades-old television show, taking us step by step through the action and providing few surprises. Some of the songs are very pretty — "The Sweetest Sounds," "In My Own Little Corner," "Ten Minutes Ago" and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" — and others are witty and tuneful; if none of them rises to the heights that Rodgers and Hammerstein achieved in Carousel and South Pacific, well, heights like that are a lot to ask for. My favorite is the lilting little ditty in which the stepsisters, ironically named Joy and Grace, lament the Prince's infatuation with Cinderella: "She's a frothy little bubble, with a flimsy kind of charm, and with very little trouble, I could break her little arm."

Director Alicia Dunfee has cast two men as the stepsisters, Bob Hoppe and Matthew Daily, and they add a reliable dose of humor to the production. The Stepmother is an elegant, Cruella de Vil — resembling Shelly Cox-Robie; in contrast, the loving parents of Prince Christopher (regular-guy Matthew Daily) are played by warm and appealing Tracy Warren and Wayne Kennedy. Ali Dunfee is all sweetness with occasional moments of gentle sarcasm as the Fairy Godmother, and Seth Caikowski — so memorable as the crazed Latin lover in The Drowsy Chaperone — holds down the fort admirably as the Prince's emissary, Lionel.

Short enough to hold a kid's attention, tuneful and skillful enough to keep parents happy, this Cinderella slides neatly into the summer slot's slipper.

 
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