Princesses. They’re everywhere — movies, toy stores, books, television and halloween costumes. And now, they’re on the stage at the Bangor Opera House, with the Penobscot Theatre Company’s holiday production, “Cinderella: A Retelling of an Old Tale.”
But this princess isn’t your typical princess, and she sure isn’t your average Cinderella. In fact, the whole show — a musical written by Kate Hawley and Gregg Coffin in 1999, for Shakespeare Santa Cruz in California — is a departure from the fairy tale norm. Inspired by traditional British pantomime, some vaudeville and even contemporary comedy, this “Cinderella” features Rockette sheep, some highly campy wicked stepsisters and a tap dancing bear. Disney, it’s not.
“There are certain constructs in a pantomime that go all the way back to Shakespearean times,” said director Nathan Halvorson. “We wanted to create that feeling of the troupe rolling up into town and putting on this production in the town square. It’s a spectacle. And we employ certain things, like audience participation and animals and men playing women. We take all those things from theatrical history and [use them].”
This “Cinderella” has since 2000 been performed nearly every year by Shakespeare Santa Cruz and by the Sacramento Theater Company — but PTC’s production will be its first time being staged on the East Coast.
“You usually can get a sense of what a show’s all about by downloading the soundtrack on iTunes, but for this one, I really was starting from scratch. There’s really almost nothing out there to reference,” said Halvorson, who also choreographed it. “It’s a little intimidating, but it’s been a great challenge.”
The young woman playing Cinderella is John Bapst senior Stephanie Colavito, who has been seen in a number of PTC youth theatre productions, and in last year’s holiday show, “Annie.” It’s her first lead role in a main stage PTC production, and for the young singer and actress, it’s a meaningful way to cap off a youth learning the craft of theater, both on and off the PTC stage. For the character of Cinderella, she’s looking beyond the gown and the glass slipper, and into the heart of the girl who goes from rags to riches.
“This Cinderella is a little different, because the way she’s a princess is that she always has that inner goodness, that inner princess,” said Colavito. “She knows that no matter how bad things get for her, she keeps believing that things will get better for her. You’re still going to see the slipper and the carriage, but I think you’ll feel something different for her.”
The Prince is played by University of Maine student Ira Kramer, the fairy godmother is played by Bangor vocalist and actress Tina Burns, and in a wickedly entertaining twist, the evil stepmothers and evil stepsisters are played by Dominick Varney, Ben Layman and Jesse Havea.
“In Shakespearean times, of course, women were played by men. This show kept that with these characters, in keeping with the tradition,” said Halvorson.
“It’s just been an incredible amount of fun. It’s a blast to be evil. I’ve been practicing in heels for weeks,” said Havea, last seen on the PTC stage in “Plaid Tidings” in 2010. “And these costumes are amazing.”
Costume designer Jess Fialko has created a lavish, imaginative set of duds for the 18-person cast, from Little Bo Peep’s militant shepherdess (Jasmine Ireland) to Varney’s over-the-top feathered dress as the Evil Stepmother, to Cinderella’ gorgeous white ball gown. Like the show itself, it mixes the traditional elements of the classic fairy tale with some theatrical whimsy and contemporary humor — fun for the kids, but engaging for the adults.
“Cinderella: A Retelling of an Old Tale,” opens Thursday, Dec. 5 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 29; performances are at 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays; there’s a special 10 a.m. matinee on Christmas Eve and there is no show on Christmas Day, or on Mondays or Tuesdays. Before each Sunday show there will be a Prince and Princess Lunch for young theater-goers. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for 18 and under; for tickets and information, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.