When Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical version of "Cinderella" made its debut on television back in 1957 (with Julie Andrews, fresh from "My Fair Lady," in the title role), it became the most widely viewed program in the history of the medium. And every few years, a new audience comes of age for the retelling of this classic fairy tale.
Currently, the refreshed fable is playing to rapt young audiences at the Rose Center Theater in Westminster, where, if Saturday's packed house is any indication, it should continue to enjoy enormous popularity. My 5-year-old granddaughter was among the viewers. She pronounced the show "awesome."
Director Tim Nelson is well aware of the age level of his target audience and plays his production accordingly. What villains exist — the stepmother and her two ungainly daughters — are played for high comic effect (one even is a guy in drag).
Cinderella herself is a familiar face at the Rose Center. Melissa Cook has brought to life such characters as Aldonza in "Man of La Mancha" and Fiona in "Brigadoon" at that venue, and in the intimate black box format of this show, she exudes a dreamlike quality, her loveliness matching her dulcet vocal tones.
As the prince, Vincent Aniceto fills the bill as a strikingly impressive figure whose singing voice is well matched with Cook's. In their opening number, tentatively a duet, although the pair are not together, they warble "The Sweetest Sounds," which Richard Rodgers later borrowed for his first post-Hammerstein musical, "No Strings," in 1962.
Nelson's wife, Mary Murphy-Nelson, has a grand time interpreting the self-centered stepmother, who has room for only her own girls in her world and shuns the sweeter, more attractive Cinderella.
The stepsisters, unsurprisingly, steal the show with their comical awkwardness. Camryn Zelinger, in a Phyllis Diller wig, fans her underarms and strives for elusive charm, while G. Nicholas (the G stands for Greg) hams it up with masculine brutishness, rendering the character thoroughly unappealing.
Chris Caputo is solid as the cost-conscious king, while Sylvia Tomaselli Nelson is a bit less possessed as his fluttery queen. Shaun Miller's fairy godmother is tentative but quite effective.
Nelson, who also enjoys a cameo as the royal chef, has recruited several students from his theater classes at Huntington Beach High School's Academy for the Performing Arts to fill out the bustling ensemble of villagers. They function smoothly under the choreography of Jennifer Simpson-Matthews and Diane Makas.
Aside from beautifully playing the title role, Cook also has, with Annabelle Cortez, designed the opulent costumes for the show. They are on prominent display during the ball scenes as the local lasses vie for the prince's attention.
With "Cinderella," the Rose Center has gathered the playgoers up onto the stage for a more intimate production, which proves most appealing, especially for the many preschoolers in the audience. For many, it's their first theatrical experience and it's a positive one.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.
If You Go
Where: Rose Center Theater, 14140 All American Way, Westminster
When: Closing performances 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $15 to $20
Information: (714) 793-1150, ext. 1 or http://www.rosecentertheater.com