Cindy Bella (or The Glass Slipper) by Irina Brook and Anna Brownsted. Directed by Irina Brook.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"A cacophony of ‘Belles’... "
Rossini’s comic opera "La Cenerentola" is based on the fairy tale of Cinderella. It has no fairy godmother and no wicked step-mother. The prince is disguised as his own servant and the servant is playing the role of his own master. And there is a magician who works for the Prince who does some scoping out of the territory. At Shakespeare and Company the resident director Irina Brook has blended elements of this altered tale with elements of its source to create the new show "Cindy Bella."
Set in Italy, in the present, and mostly at the Bar Magnifico where Cindy works for her step-father, it is a hilarious take on the tale. Cindy is a rampant accordion player and wears large, black-rimmed eyeglasses. Her step-sisters Clorinda and Tisbe gab incessantly and rarely say anything worthwhile ("Classical music is so stressful"). Don Magnifico, or step-dad, is a pompous old blowhard who wields a gun and threatens suicide.
Into this arena comes a modest Scotsman (really the Prince, Don Ramiro), an elderly Indian beggar woman (really Alidoro, the Prince’s emissary) and the Prince himself (the chauffeur Dandini). What follows the appearance of this trio of glories is what makes the story so special. There is also a gay dress-maker, but the less said about him the better, although I did love his outfit.
Heather Fisch plays Cindy whose real name is Angelina. She is totally charming and ultimately totally pretty. She has a soft, charming singing voice, seems to actually play the accordion and acts the role with a simplicity that makes her often senseless reactions to things seem absolutely right. As a contrast to the other women in the show she is that spark of reality that allows everything else, outrageous as things get, appear to be just as based in reality. Fisch is a find for this company. Her crooning of Puccini’s ‘O, mio babbino Caro" from Gianni Schicchi is perfect.
David Joseph as the over-the-top "Prince" (actually Dandini) is hilarious. He has never been funnier in any of his characterizations and when he sings "O Solo Mio/It’s Now or Never" you know he means business. He wears out-sized costume pieces well and he moves with the grace of a gazelle.
Renée Margaret Speltz is an exotic Alidora. She handles her many variants on her role well and plays with sincerity and the agility to adapt herself to every situation.
Scott Renzoni is the real Prince and he carries it off with an unanticipated gracefulness. As he comes out of the odd shell in which the Prince has buried himself to test the honesty of women he becomes more and more a man and thence more attractive. It’s a sweet performance for his character is in love with the right woman from the very beginning of the show even though it takes the right shoe, and I mean the right shoe, to prove his point.
Clorinda and Tisbe are played by Dana Harrison and Caley Milliken. These women have never been funnier. Harrison, in particular, in dialogue that feels ad-libbed rather than scripted, constantly amuses. Whether displaying meanness, or greed, or lust, or slight musical abilities - their renditions of "Fever" and "Mr. Prince-Man" are a must-see ("There are seven more verses" Clorinda calls out on her exit) - these two women are half the show.
It is Benjamin Luxon who brings voice to the piece, however. He is the only actor whose voice is consistently audible and understandable in the Founders’ Theatre space. He plays the father brilliantly, sober or drunk, alert or half-asleep. Perhaps it is the combination of his opera background and the operatic source, but he is consistently wonderful as Don Magnifico. If the rest of this excellent cast could take their vocal production cues from him the show, already a laugh-riot, would be an actual WOW.
The set and props have been eloquently designed by Ralph T. Randle and the effective lighting is by John Elder. Michael Pfeiffer’s sound design work leaves something to be desired, like levels that still allow the actors to be heard, but other than that it is smartly achieved. The songs, borrowed from Puccini, Irving Berlin, Rossini and others work well as pointed parody pieces. The fun costumes are uncredited in the program but were constructed by Kadie Midlam, Jim Day and Govane Lohbauer.
What director/author Irina Brook has done well she has done very well indeed. The show has a constant sense of activity and movement. She has given her actors specifics to play that instantly delineate their characters. If, indeed, the two sisters are making up lines as they go along - which is the sense of their dialogue - then Brook has guided them in the right directions. What she has not done is to orchestrate the quiet moments properly. The opening of the play where Cindy is alone is draggy and stagnant; the storm scene with Alidora is uncomfortably awkward. The final dance, a dibble dance without Susan Dibble, is appropriately Italianate and helps to button the play nicely.
There aren’t many chances to see this show and the show is a lot of fun, just the thing to brighten the holiday season. With general seating you may end up a part of the play, by the way, so you take your chances wherever you are. As I see it, watching the fun or joining the fun the outcome is fun for everyone, kids and adults alike.
Heather Fisch as Cindy; photo: Kevin Sprague
Scott Renzoni as Don Ramiro; photo: Kevin Sprague
David Joseph, Caley Milliken and Benjamin Luxon (with woman not in current cast); photo: Kevin Sprague
Cindy Bella plays weekends in the Founders’ Theatre at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, MA only through December 20. All tickets are $34. Call the box office for reservations, 413-637-3353.