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STAGE REVIEW : CLO’s ‘Cinderella’ Is Played for Laughs : Celebrities may pull in the crowd but the Rodgers and Hammerstein score and a sweet-singing Cinderella lift the show.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You might go see the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera’s “Cinderella” for its top-billed veteran celebrities--Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows and Rose Marie--but you can enjoy it for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lyrical score, a comic trio of supporting players and a spunky, sweet-singing Cinderella.

That mix--and opening-night glitches at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood (an indecisive curtain, a misbehaving magic wand, miscued lights, a mistimed special effect and crying babies in the audience)--makes it a bumpy ride.

But a cozy one. This uneven celebrity vehicle is as feel-good familiar as your TV set.

As a matter of fact, Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote it for television--Julie Andrews had the title role in the original 1957 production; a 1965 remake introduced Lesley Ann Warren. But then the emphasis was on romance; this production goes for laughs.

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Allen doesn’t do much as the King except deliver a few Steverino-type one-liners--with an uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm on opening night. Despite warm audience response, he seemed fatigued.

Rose Marie, whose voice is deeper than ever, is a charmer, playing a down-to-earth Godmother with such undiminished sparkle and Rose Marie-isms that you find yourself looking for Dick Van Dyke and Morey Amsterdam.

Meadows submerges her celebrity status. No stranger to imperious roles, Meadows, who has played royalty in productions as diverse as “David and Bathsheba” and “Alice in Wonderland,” makes a strong showing as the Queen, her assured vocals a pleasant bonus.

Bobbie Eakes and Jeff Trachta as Cinderella and the Prince are recognizable from the small screen, too--at least to fans of “The Bold and the Beautiful” soap. Trachta is somewhat wooden physically, but they both sing well--and they both look the part.

But despite the show-biz spin, there would be no show without a strong lead, and Eakes doesn’t disappoint. Her pretty Cinderella is so spirited, it’s hard to believe she would put up with all that abuse at home. (When her Godmother asks her why she doesn’t just leave, Cinderella says she is honoring her late father’s wishes.)

When she goes to the ball, it’s as if she made her own miracle--she is not even particularly surprised. (The emphasis is not on special effects here--there are no thunderclaps, no flashes of light. A black-light transformation scene, when pumpkin and mice turn into coach and horses, is disarming in its simplicity. Adam Bezark designed the special effects.)

Eakes even manages to hold her own against three scene-stealers, no small task. Carol Swarbrick as the Stepmother, Pamela Hamill as Stepsister Portia and Sandy Rosenberg as Stepsister Joy are a hoot. Hamill and Rosenberg light up the stage with wacky physical comedy.

Happily, they have plenty to do.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lyrical score buoys the show’s weaker moments. The romantic ballads--"Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful” and “Ten Minutes Ago,” in particular--linger long after the curtain goes down.

The spectacle in this modest production, directed by Charles Repole, is provided by Garland Riddle’s colorful costumes--full gowns and militaristic glitter--and by Timothy Smith’s exuberant choreography. Eduardo Sicangco’s sets are storybook simple.

“Cinderella,” Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (213) 410-1062, (714) 634-1400, (818) 763-9101; $10-$32.50 (younger than 12, half price). Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.


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