Review: 5-Star Theatricals’ ‘Cinderella’ Glitteringly Highlights the Power of Agency

Camryn Hamm in 5-Star Theatricals' production of "Cinderella" at the Bank of Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin

5-Star Theatricals’ second musical of its 2023-24 season (through only Sunday, July 23rd), Cinderella, is the ideal family show where the unfeasible becomes doable, and drab duds turn into resplendent gowns for its eponymous character who sees sparks fly when she meets a humane prince with inescapable feelings of his own. The venturesome proceedings are neatly outlined by a starry glitz and realized by a multitalented cast who sing and dance as well as they act.

It should be stated that this version is not based on Walt Disney’s 1950 animated film but on a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, which originally premiered in 2013 on Broadway and went on to be nominated for a whopping nine Tony Awards. It marks a more modern adaptation of the 2,000-year-old fairy tale as it slightly reimagines some of the characters and instills a sense of self-awareness and morality in the prince and townsfolk. Making the beloved personalities less oblivious and more intentional in their actions is likely to resonate with contemporary audiences as the motivations never feel forced or out of place given that many classical elements from Hammerstein’s 1957 book (which debuted as part of a TV broadcast starring Julie Andrews) are retained along with his lyrics and Rodgers’ timeless music. It is the perfect melding of the past and present.

(L-R) Bruno Koskoff and Kevin Bailey in 5-Star Theatricals’ production of Cinderella at the Bank of Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin

Ella, or Cinderella, is still relegated to rags and is subjugated by her Madame stepmother, with one stepsister (Charlotte) who is self-centered while another (Gabrielle) is intrinsically good. Upon first meeting Prince Topher (short for Christopher), Cinderella makes an impression with her kindness by giving him water. Topher, now a university grad with critical-thinking skills, and whose impending rule beckons, is flanked by his main advisor Lord Sebastian who believes the masses should be placated, but only slightly, to avoid sweeping unrest. The rabble-rousing by Jean-Michel, a revolutionary, seeds in Sebastian the idea of a “distraction;” that is, a masquerade ball with all eligible females where the prince can decide at midnight whom to wed after dancing with all of them. Cinderella, of course, requires a little help in the form of an altruistically otherworldly source, once believed to be “crazy,” in getting to the party. At midnight, when Cinderella hastily departs, lest she might be exposed for being of a much lower status, the prince is only further fueled to find the mysterious woman.

Landen Starkman (far right on box) with the company of 5-Star Theatricals’ Cinderella at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin

Director Yvette Lawrence has brought the finest out of a cast who convey modern sensibilities and yet are simultaneously capable of realistically portraying some of the traditions that Cinderella is inextricably characterized by. Choreographer Cheryl Baxter succeeds in mapping out not just several sequences of classy partner dancing but an array of accelerated movements that make use of the entire stage. To the same end, particularly in the first scene, Marc Leclerc’s fight/tumbling choreography is on display as the prince’s soldiers ward off an in-the-shadows enemy giant. Not to mention, Jack Allaway’s technical direction contributes to the flawless, above-the-stage suspension involving some of the actors.

With Cinderella being a highly visual production, Front Row Theatrical’s sets (trees, night sky, site of the ball) swiftly draw in the attention of observers to this ethereal romance, as does Brandon Baruch’s opulent lighting, the gleaming costumes supervised by Gail Garon/Chris Steele, and Alex Choate’s jaw-dropping props (e.g., Cinderella’s lustrous horse carriage and the raccoon/fox puppets). And with this being a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, music director/conductor Anthony Lucca and sound designer Jonathan A. Burke ensure that the 66-year-old tunes echo as lushly as they ever did.

Kelsie Kiana Piini (center) with the ensemble of 5-Star Theatricals’ Cinderella at the Bank of Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin

The Young and the Restless star Camryn Hamm makes her 5-Star debut as Cinderella, amusingly noted as an “impoverished person.” Hamm affects not only an innocence as the Venetian glass slipper-wearing Cinderella but a courage that burgeons with dashes of encouragement from Regina A. Fernandez’s Marie, a sweet homeless woman in tattered clothes who speaks gibberish and harbors an amazing secret. Additionally, Hamm is immediately likable with her expressively dulcet voice, which makes her myriad songs, including “A Lovely Night,” even lovelier. Likewise, when Marie’s intentions become clearer, Fernandez emotes her character with a sparklingly divine confidence that rises over any dubiousness, becoming a significant aide.

Tyler Matthew Burk’s Prince Topher might just be the most rational and reasonable ruler of any kingdom known up until this point. Burk gets across the introspection and relatable honesty of a persona who isn’t afraid to call something out as unjust or “creepy.” From a vocal standpoint, Burk is an excellent tenor, exhibiting a Herculean chest voice and poignant falsetto as in the introductory “Me, Who Am I?” and especially the moving “Ten Minutes Ago.”

(L-R) Camryn Hamm and Regina A. Fernandez in 5-Star Theatricals’ production of Cinderella at the Bank of Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin

The prince, as inexperienced as he is, has misgivings about the prevailing influence of the black-robed Lord Sebastian, played with terrific depth by veteran actor Kevin Bailey. Sebastian, who seems wise, although misguided, isn’t purely evil as he earnestly believes he has the prince’s best interests in mind. Bailey straddles the fine lines of his character, presenting a depiction that subsists more in a greyer area.

Whereas Sebastian is amoral at worst, Landen Starkman’s Lord Pinkleton makes for a pleasant and cheery promulgator of the news, specifically the prince’s ball. Standing on a wooden box while handing out invitations, Starkman demonstrates his unrestrained vocals and charisma in communicating Pinkleton’s gusto in enunciating the prince’s full name several times over.

Frankie Zabilka, who has become a 5-Star staple, returns as the progressive-minded protestor, Jean-Michel. Zabilka has an honesty about his countenance that lends itself well to the virtuous role, which is depicted with a present-day moral sense that fascinatingly counters the highfalutin courtspeak as discerned in Sebastian.

(Foreground, L-R) Camryn Hamm and Tyler Matthew Burk in 5-Star Theatricals’ production of Cinderella at the Bank of Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin

Unsurprisingly, the Madame and stepsisters comprise a humorously intriguing trio, but not all for the same reasons. For instance, both Emily King Brown’s Madame and Kelsie Kiana Piini’s Charlotte are ostensibly stuck in their class-conscious and vapid ways, but Sarah Hinrichsen’s Gabrielle is much less rigid in her thinking.

Certainly, the screeching Madame, who unsuspectingly wonders why she lacks friends, is the cruelest of the bunch, notably vis-à-vis Cinderella, a villainous quality that Brown believably gets across in tandem with being hysterical as when she explains — with a cacophonous laugh — how Ella came to be called “Cinderella.” Moreover, the pigtailed Charlotte, as imperceptive as she is, has an appealing wryness about her, which Piini delivers with both her dialogue and body language (i.e., her interaction with Burk’s Prince at the ball and drolly grousing why she isn’t desired in “Stepsister’s Lament”). In comparison, the bespectacled Gabrielle seems almost unimpeachable because she doesn’t pile on Cinderella even when it would be convenient. Frankly, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else but Hinrichsen being charged with projecting this amiability.

(L-R) Aaron Camitses, Camryn Hamm (in carriage), Luke Pryor, and Regina A. Fernandez (aloft) in 5-Star Theatricals’ production of Cinderella at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. Photo credit: Veronica Slavin

Two other individual standouts among the company are Aaron Camitses and 14-year-old Luke Pryor who, as the humanized Raccoon and Fox, respectively, dazzle with their athleticism as they perform successive backflips and flit like flashes of light across the stage. The proficient ensemble, too, which includes even younger performers, all hit all their marks, making the most impact by executing Baxter’s choreography. For example, the hoedown, spins, and splits during “The Prince Is Giving a Ball/Now Is the Time,” as well as the advanced waltz at the actual ball, with high kicks and spins by the females who are lifted by their male partners, represent two of many numbers that are a treat to watch.

Overall, audiences who enjoy seeing a slightly more evolved Cinderella will heartily appreciate 5-Star Theatricals’ production. With inequities of the land being more readily acknowledged, combined with an open-mindedness in the air and some magically quick costume changes sprinkled in, the hopelessly impossible becomes reassuringly possible. The voiceless are bestowed a voice and outmoded power structures become less centralized in a rendition that will have adults and children rallying behind the musical’s admirable characters.

For more information about 5-Star Theatricals’ production of Cinderella (through Sunday, July 23rd), and to purchase tickets, please visit 5StarTheatricals.com


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