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This Cinderella is a little different

 

09 Cinderella The Remix at IStage through May 25Imagination Stage’s world premiere of “Cinderella: the Remix,” is an intriguing mash up of genre and styles.  
The fact that the parts tend to be better than the whole suggests one more edit would not hurt, but it is still a fascinating idea.
Updating a well-known children’s story is not as simple as it looks, but artist Psalmayene 24 has managed this tricky feat twice before.  His earlier shows at Imagination Stage also combined storytelling with urban beats: “Zoma the Rabbit: a Hip-Hop Creation Myth” and “P. Nokio: a Hip-Hop musical.”  These are imaginative retellings of established stories, carefully brought up to date for a modern audience.  “Cinderella: the Remix” is the final work of the artist’s Hip-Hop Children’s Theater trilogy and it too takes a famous story and adds a modern twist to it.  Some of the more unbelievable elements of the Cinderella story are dropped here - there are no pumpkins turning into carriages – but enough of the story remains to be easy to follow.  Meanwhile Psalmayene 24 carefully brings forward themes that were not spelled out in the original tale.
The play pushes the fairy tale into a slightly alternative future.  In Hip-Hop Hollywood, tradition has cemented everything into place, and women are not allowed to be a DJ in public.  The crime is called fronting and it carries a unique and much feared punishment.  When recording star J Prince needs a DJ for his Jam, Cinderella takes the risk and goes in disguise for the audition.
It is not difficult to see the traditional Cinderella story within this more contemporary story line.  The Jam obviously replaces the grand ball and J Prince is a different type of royalty.  Of course there are setbacks for Cinderella getting to the Big Event, and you need a Fairy Godmother type to help save the day.  Meanwhile, that pesky midnight deadline remains attached.
The production, also directed by Psalmayene 24, is at its best skewering modern pop culture.  The script gets its digs into everyone from Susan B Anthony to the Obamas to Miley Cyrus.  And while I have no idea what Oprah Winfrey ever did to the writer/director, but boy are the satirical barbed arrows aimed at her for an extended and hilarious sequence (played to a T with frazzled mock seriousness by actress Giselle LeBleu Gant, who also doubles as the Evil Stepmother figure).
This production also turns the Cinderella story inside out, adding a lot of “girl power” themes to the mix.  Admirable, because there is a definitely perceived misogynistic strain of Hip-Hop culture, both the lack of female artists and the notorious lyrics of some of the songs.  Also, when you stop to think about it, the Cinderella of the original story never did that much – she suffered in silence and relied on others to help her out.  The Cinderella of this Hip-Hop version, admirably played by the plucky Paige Hernandez, is much more in control of her destiny. 
Despite the often high energy of the cast and soundtrack, there are weak spots here. While the performers are all good with the Hip-Hop style, those opening musical sequences add little to the story until we get to the audition and the Jam itself.
Plus while the character of Cinderella’s animal friend Chin Chilla is well played by Katy Carkoff, she really does not have a lot to do.  Same with Jacob Yeh as manager Mo’ Money, although he gives J Prince a really good reason for going through all these hoops for the Jam – his last album didn’t sell as well as hoped and the studio management are watching.
Mark Hairston quite funny as Cinderella’s hapless brother and Raye Harell is quite smooth as the self-centered J Prince.  Ethan Sinnott’s set is a high tech fantasy land complete with multiple on stage video screens for the Jam and outside callers.
There’s a lot going on here, and the youngsters will no doubt eat it up.  Still, the show feels like a final draft and not the finished product quite yet. 
“Cinderella” the Remix” continues at Imagination Stage through May 25.  For tickets, call 301-280-1660 or go online to www.imaginationstage.org
 
2 stars   
By David Cannon
Mocovox Entertainment Critic

 

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