Yule Winner

DTC performs annual Tiny Tim rescue; at Theatre Britain, shoe fits, Cinderella acquits

One of the highlights of Theatre Britain's lineup each year is its Christmas "panto," a children's fairy tale told in a traditional British style that switches up the genders among roles. For Cinderella, now onstage at the Trinity River Arts Center, director Sue Birch, founder of this company, puts dresses—really big, crazy dresses dripping with pompons—on actors Brian Witkowicz and Malcolm Beaty as ugly stepsisters "Entsheawful" and "Enchilada." Actress Raye Bonham takes on the dual "breeches" roles of Prince Charming and his alter ego, "Buttons."

The result is a loose, un-bawdy, very kid-giggly interpretation of the old story, re-imagined here in panto style by playwright Jackie Mellor, who works in some goofy references to Ross Dress for Less and Google. As required, a panto incorporates audience sing-alongs, some glow-in-the-dark puppetry (used for the ball gown-sewing scene) and the appearance of a remarkably un-scary ghost. This Cinderella also introduces a court jester named Silly Billie (Allison McCorkle) who explains all to the crowd beforehand.

Might not be wise to teach kids to yak back to actors at other live theater productions, but for a panto it's part of the fun. The audience is urged to boo every entrance of Cinderella's snooty stepmonster, Baroness Likely (Michele Rene), and to warn the jester whenever that sheet-draped ghost sneaks onstage behind her.

Cinderella (Laura Stephenson) and two ugly dudes...er, stepsisters (Malcolm Beaty, left, and Bryan Witkowicz)
Mark Trew
Cinderella (Laura Stephenson) and two ugly dudes...er, stepsisters (Malcolm Beaty, left, and Bryan Witkowicz)

Among the cast, the stepsisses in drag steal every scene, as you might expect, particularly Witkowicz, wobbling under a wig that resembles a 2-foot-high cone of tomato aspic (great costumes by Robin Armstrong and hair and makeup by Steven-Shayle Rhodes). Cinderella, as played by the diminutive Laura Stephenson, is a pretty, wispy thing but often barely visible behind the boys' voluminous hoop skirts. She makes a grand transformation, however, in the black-lit ball-gown scene that earns well-deserved "oohs" and "aahs" from the kiddos.

Nancy Lamb, a newcomer to Theatre Britain, gives her Fairy Godmother character an authentic-sounding Scottish burr. Kit Givens and John Moss are good as super-sized mice and royal courtiers.

The only clunker in the cast is Steve Freedman as Prince Charming's father, King Leopold. Where quick comic timing is called for, Freedman falters on the British phrasings. He's the only bland blip in an otherwise delightful bit of family entertainment.

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