By Richard Rogers & Oscar Hammerstein
Directed by Jeri Hammond, music director Jonathan Goldberg,
At the Wheelock Family Theatre The Riverway Jamaica Plain, MA

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

The Wheelock Family Theatre is celebrating its fifteenth year in residence at Wheelock College, where it continues its mission of producing "family theatre with a social conscience, accessible to all." The Wheelock shows mix professional and community performers, using nontraditional casting and a generous helping of child actors to reflect the diverse community it serves. The Rogers and Hammerstein musical "Cinderella" is the season opener, in an almost-modern-dress style reminiscent of the romantic old movies starring Fred Astaire.

There's a gentle kind of magic at work from the opening, when the Herald (Robert J. Saoud) calls on the orchestra pit to supply his trumpet with a fanfare, and the townspeople begin dancing down the aisles, singing "The Prince Is Giving a Ball!" right through the waltz in the starlit garden of the palace to the happy end, where Cinderella in her triumph forgives her stepmother and sisters--- who simper and beam as they bask in reflected glory as the Prince's chosen in-laws.

There isn't as much to forgive as usual ---this retelling of the ashes-to-riches story goes light on the persecution. Grace Napier's Cinderella accepts every unreasonable demand with a sweet smile, and never complains. This may be because of her loving nature, or it may be because Cinderella has a chore schedule light enough to leave her plenty of time for daydreams and singing wonderful Rogers' melodies like "In My Own Little Corner". The worst one could say of the wardrobe Cindy's forced to wear is that it is "ordinary" -- no rags, no ashes or dirt. Although the sisters and the stepmother are played strictly for laughs, Gamalia Pharms, Sarah Kindleberger, and Jane Staaub charm both adults and children with their stylish slapstick and their delight in each other.

The palace set overflows with fifties family values: Erik Dickinson's King bumbles along with the very best intentions, Kathryn Woods manipulates her menfolk with Queenly grace -- all for their own good, of course. William Monnen's Prince is melancholy and courteous even to the least attractive of the maidens at his ball, and when he partners Cinderella they dance as if they were meant to be together always, a perfect image of romance.

Of course, romance isn't all that popular with some of the younger set. My five year old companion whispered "yuck" when the couple exchanged love's first chaste kiss. This boy's favorite part was the waiters' dance, where the young men of the chorus made a great clatter with their platters. He also approved of the mice who became the coach-horses: some of them were even younger than he, and he was very impressed with their performing skills. He liked the Godmother (Bobbie Steinbach) -- "especially the sparkly thing she did with her wand"-- and he pronounced himself quite satisfied with the production as a whole. "It was very good", he said. "But the story's not very exciting." But then, it's a story about girls.