Friday, January 29, 2010

Totally Jazzed by "A Cinderella Story"

"The spoiled stepsisters learn to dance at an Arthur Murray studio, Handsome Hunk Charming swaggers ala The Fonz and the heroine is saved by her pet poodle? Wowza!"

That's the opening line of my review of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's A Cinderella Story, which entranced me this past Tuesday evening at Ruth Eckerd Hall. After I had decided -- twice -- that I really couldn't attend because of a previous obligation, my own fairy godmother, aka Sandy Huff, waved a free ticket in front of me and whisked me off to the ball.

I was mesmerized.

From the opening number danced by the Butler (Alexander Gamayunov) to an a cappella scat song sung by arranger and jazz band diretor Ron Paley to the poignant pas de deux near the end which featured Bob (Gael Lambiotte) and Nancy (Serena Sandford) dancing around and past each other but never touching or looking at each other, the performance was a creative melding of ballet, jazz, ballroom dancing, and theater.

Paley took Richard Rodgers' tunes from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s -- decades when he partnered with Lorenz Hart -- plus one or two later songs from his partnership with Oscar Hammerstein and turned these ballads into big band jazz arrangements that formed the score for the ballet, set in the 1950s and choreographed by Val Caniparoli. (See video below)

I hadn't a clue.

Rodgers & Hart was "before my time," after all. Even Elvis Presley was BMT. I grew up with the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Joan Baez. I loved (still do) Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, but they were soon supplanted by Andrew Lloyd Webber's and others' works.

So I didn't recognize any of the tunes -- not even "Blue Moon," which both Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis Presley covered. 

Neither did the little girl -- maybe six years old -- who sat, enthralled, on my left. Didn't matter to either of us. We enjoyed a well-told story, creatively presented.

Other, more senior or more musically-enlightened members of the audience must have experienced the thrill of recognizing old songs transformed by the magic touches of Paley, Caniparoli, and -- why not? -- Cinderella's fairy godmother.

If the RWB hasn't produced a CD of the score and a DVD of the performance, they should. Their funny, artistically satisfying, gorgeously-danced, inventive rendition of a familiar story that never grows old in the telling deserves a vastly wider audience than just the people of Winnipeg and those few souls who catch one of their half-dozen or so tour stops.

[Photos and video are courtesy of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. See more video interviews with cast members, choreographer Val Caniparoli, and even footware manager Krystal Comstock on their Web site or on YouTube.)

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