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Anything goes in zany panto

With Princess Miley of Cyrus on the potential guest list — as well as the Princesses Gaga, Snookie and Rihanna — who can blame poor Queen Isadora of Duncan for longing for the good, old days. ...

That was when a princess could both dance and keep her clothes on, sighs the queen, thinking back fondly to Princess Leia of Lucas, in Central Alberta Theatre’s Christmas pantomime, which opened on Friday at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre.

Cinderella Dances with the Stars, written and directed by local playwright Albert Azzara, is a boisterous production that takes the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to family entertainment.

That is to say, it contains many zany, over-the-top characters and a silly, convoluted story line about a kingdom-wide dance-off to win the hand of Prince Channing of Tatum.

There’s lots of audience participation, songs borrowed from other musicals, a black light ballet, a “panto” horse, and many punny cultural and local references.

Some of these proved to be quite clever and hit home, such a description of Red Deer in winter as “fifty shades of grey.”

A lot more were of the hokey Benny Hill variety, requiring a cymbal crash and a pa-dum-dum follow, obliged by percussionist Logan Scott.

Viewers had pretty much accepted that anything goes by the time the play’s villain, Prince Rudolf of Nureyev (Tom Brushett), sang Bad by Michael Jackson.

Or when Cinderella’s competitive stepsisters, Marigold (played as a Napoleon Dynamite look-alike by Jake Sheardown) and Pansy (Hannah Humphreys in a Rod Stewart fright wig) crooned Anything You Can Do from Annie Get Your Gun.

All the goofiness was a hoot — the play’s length was another matter.

The three-act production with two intermissions clocked in at over three hours during Thursday’s dress rehearsal. By any standard, that is overindulgently long for something that’s supposed to be family entertainment.

Most young ones would love the panto horse Putter (Gianna Lal and Hunter Ghesquiere endearingly play the retired Heritage Ranch nag), but would have a hard time staying put to see this play’s happy ending.

The comedy’s length could be reduced, somewhat, if actors were quicker with their cues — and no doubt pacing will pick up as the run progresses.

The capable cast that hammed scenes up appropriately is led by Olivia Smith, who played a sweet Cinderella that the audience had no trouble cheering for.

She is mistreated by her mean stepmother (played by an immensely busomed Geoff Tagg), loved by all animals, and is very worried about her father, who disappeared two weeks ago. (Her stepmother had sent him to the drug store for “an emergency Oil of Olay run” when he vanished).

Some of the play’s best moments were when the songbird Smith (of Canada’s Got Talent fame) sang Where is Love? from Oliver and Whistle a Happy Tune from The King and I. The latter was a duet with Cinderella’s best friend Buttons, played by Ian Sheppard, who seemed to channel Kenneth, the goodie-two-shoes NBC page character from 30 Rock.

Queen Isadora (Marianne Christenson) was memorable when she made a grand entrance to the song Killer Queen by the band Queen, accompanied by Prime Minister Stephen Harmonica (Lionel Lustgarten).

Her son, Prince Channing, played by Alex Uricaru, is a better charmer than singer. But his reaction to slipping on lemon-scented dishwashing soap, spilled by his nemesis Prince Rudolf to derail the dancing competition, was hilarious.

And so was the bandaging job done by his cousin, Lady Priscilla of the Desert (Nicole Orr playing the double cast part).

Elena Rousseau was credibly dastardly as the fabulously hatted Natasha of Bullwinkle (another double cast role). Both she and Rudolf were routinely booed and hissed by the audience.

On the opposite end of the good-evil spectrum was the well meaning but ditzy Fairy Godmother, played by Cynthia Edwards, who had her hands full trying to sneak Cinderella into the dancing competition.

Once everyone finally got into the ballroom for the dance-off, it would have been nice to see some more actual hoofing going on, after all the buildup. It also would have been just fine if the play had wrapped up then and there. But that was not to be.

The flip side of having as great an imagination as Azzara obviously has is that sometimes it’s hard to know when to rein things in.

On the other hand, boredom was not an issue in a play with this much going on.

There were cute jokes (and plenty of groaners) for adults, and kids loved the sight gags — such as when the fairy godmother charms Putter the horse, causing him to produce Cinderella’s dance credentials — which fall from his hind end.

Special credit must go to Darrel Dixon and Pamela Dawn Rigby for a multitude of sound effects, music director/keyboardist Ross Dabrusin, and costumers Suzan Humphreys and Lesley Parfett for helping create a colourful spectacle.

Cinderella Dances With the Stars, which celebrates everything local, from Olymel to Victoria Park and the bridge over the Red Deer River, continues to Dec. 21.



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