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Family : Hard to Get Swept Up in ‘Cinderella’ When It’s Such a Chore

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Since children’s theater isn’t for adults or critics, we listened closely to the kids at the Gem Theatre last weekend while the Broadway On Tour children’s theater group was presenting Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”

What we didn’t hear was much enthusiastic applause. We heard more and more shifting in the seats as the two-hour-plus show went on.

We also heard a young one asking mom the Four Deadly Words: “When is it over?” Saturday-afternoon playgoing should be such a ball for kids that they make it a life habit--which is why children’s theater is so important. It shouldn’t be a chore.

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This “Cinderella” is more of a chore than fun, though when it is fun, you’re grateful. The key spark plugs in this largely teen cast are Deonne Geib and Nickie Gentry as Cinderella’s snotty, evil, comically misnamed stepsisters Portia and Joy. Geib and Gentry are not-so-little, nasally voiced horrors who grab every scene they’re in and run with them. Vanessa Ramich’s stepmother provides good, witchy support.

Then, of course, there are the mice who help Cinderella in her transformation from household slave to the star of the Prince’s ball. Played by an absolutely charming group of kids, these are mice that you wouldn’t mind at all crawling around your kitchen floor. Matthew Mullins’ Herald and Nicholas McKim’s Steward break up the treacly and boring scenes with some welcome high jinks.

Surrounded by such comic talent, Daina Baker’s Cinderella and Matthew Kahler’s Prince are bland goody two-shoes. Baker nicely projects her several songs, especially the central romantic number “Ten Minutes Ago,” and conveys a few thrills at finally getting out of the house. But the excitement doesn’t hold for long, and Kahler, with a weak voice, is unfairly cast in such a demanding role.

Brigid Ward displays regal confidence as the Queen, though Joel South looks like he’s playing dress-up as the King. Stacey Thompson’s overly florid Fairy Godmother needs to be reined in by director Daniel Halkyard, who also needs to do something about the painfully long set changes (Neil Caplin and Kevin Cowles did the dull set pieces).

One interesting idea here is having Ann Geib play the score on an onstage baby grand piano, though Geib’s playing sounded nervous on Saturday, and the piano appeared to squeeze an overcrowded stage.

A few elements are just fine--Sheryl Martin’s costumes are this production’s most meticulous creation, and Mitch Atkins’ special effects should make the kids sit up and take notice.

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* “Cinderella,” Gem Theatre, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Fridays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends June 30. $8-$10. (714) 741-9550. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes. Daina Baker: Cinderella

Matthew Kahler: Prince

Deonne Geib: Portia

Nickie Gentry: Joy

Vanessa Ramich: Stepmother

Stacey Thompson: Fairy Godmother

Joel South: King

Brigid Ward: Queen

Matthew Mullins: Herald

Nicholas McKim: Steward

Jonathan Terech: Chef

A Broadway On Tour production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical. Directed by Daniel Halkyard. Set: Neil Caplin and Kevin Cowles. Costumes: Sheryl Martin. Choreographer: Sandra Castelo. Vocal director-pianist: Ann Geib. Special effects: Mitch Atkins. Lights: Halkyard and Eric Koehler.

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