The ’60s must be in the air this spring in Eugene’s arts world. Last month the Eugene Ballet did a bang-up dance interpretation of Tommy, the 1969 rock opera by the Who; and tonight at The Shedd, New York singer Nellie McKay will perform music from My Weekly Reader, her new album of ’60s rock covers.
Meanwhile, last night I was at the Hult Center and took in yet another ’60s show, Ballet Fantastique’s Cinderella, which is billed as “a rock opera ballet.”
Conceived and choreographed by Donna Marisa Bontrager and her daughter, Hannah Bontrager (who dances the lead role of Cindy), Cinderella was first done by the company in 2012 and is now the first show the five-year-old company has reprised. I didn’t see it then, though I spent some time at the BFan studio watching the Bontragers and the dancers pull the show together.
It’s all wrapped around a cool conceit: Instead of a fairytale ball at the palace, the dance here is a high school prom. It’s told as a live radio broadcast, narrated perfectly here by Fred Crafts, the former Register-Guard arts writer and a one-time radio guy in real life who now runs his own small theater company, Radio Redux. Crafts completely captures the tone of those teen-oriented ’60s pop shows that those of us of a certain age remember all too well.
The real armature to this Cinderella is the rock ‘n’ roll , a nice selection of early ’60s, mostly pre-Beatles tunes performed live by Shelley James and Callan Coleman and their band. The show opens with Big Girls Don’t Cry and plunges right on through such familiar hits as You Can’t Hurry Love, Mashed Potato Time, I Saw Her Standing There and Save the Last Dance for Me.
Through it all the BFan dancers interpret the familiar fairy tale, with the wicked stepmother and stepsisters (Jocelyn Wright, Ashley Bontrager and Krislyn Willes) vying with Cindy for the attentions of Prince Charming, danced lightly and wonderfully by Casey Myrick.
Leanne Mizoni is strong as the fairy godmother, and Lydia Rakov does an amazing, almost disjointed dance instructor from Dancing Divas.
My favorite scene is the colorful ensemble work that ends Act I, to the sounds of the Chordettes’ Mr. Sandman.
Classical ballet this isn’t, and much of the dancing in Cinderella seems more spirited than controlled. A bigger problem is that this is essentially a jukebox musical, with dancers. That’s fine for singing along, but this Cinderella lacks much semblance of an emotional arc as it moves from tune to tune. One remedy might be to forego the story and push even further into spectacle. Any Busby Berkeley fans in the local dance community?
But that might be taking things too seriously. Cinderella is a perfectly fun show, and even people much younger than baby boomers will recognize most of the music. You can see it tonight and tomorrow.
Cinderella: A Rock Opera Ballet
Ballet Fantastique, with live music by Shelley & Cal + the Agents of Unity
Continues 7:30 p.m. Saturday May 9 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday May 10
Soreng Theater, Hult Center for the Performing Arts