And now for something completely different

Having played the role of self-appointed high school theater critic around here for the better part of two decades, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that little surprises me in that arena.

Except, usually, for Sherburne-Earlville. Between directors Colleen Law-Tefft and Paul Zona, the troupes at S-E, whether they’re tackling dramas or musicals, rarely play it safe. I’ve been delighted with the chances I’ve seen taken on the Marauder stage over the years. From Oscar Wilde to Moss Hart to Studs Terkel, their source material always challenges their young thespians.

So when I heard this spring’s musical was “Cinderella,” I quickly began compiling excuses for why I wouldn’t be able to go review a dress rehearsal. I’ve got to wash my hair. American Idol. Still haven’t done my taxes. Anything that would get me out of seeing one of the most tired high school productions ever.

I should have known better. Mr. Zona wouldn’t trot out a tried-and-true “Cinderella” replete with fancy ball gowns and colored tights. No, far from it – inspired by a recent viewing of “Madame Butterfly,” he thought he’d stage our familiar “Cinderella” ... Kabuki style.

Cinderella, in Kabuki? I’m in.

For the unfamiliar, Kabuki is an ancient Japanese theater style known for its use of intricate ... ah, forget it. Look it up on Wikipedia. All you need to know, basically, is that they’re doing it all in Japanese costumes. Throw in minimal set pieces and stage hands in Ninja costumes, and you’ve got a “Cinderella” like you’ve never seen before.

Sound bizarre? It is. But that’s what makes it work over your run-of-the-mill production. There’s still a fairy godmother and wicked stepsisters and a charming prince, but they’re all presented in a way which I’m fairly certain you’ve never seen before. Inspired, Mr. Zona, truly inspired.

I’m just glad he didn’t go see “Oh! Calcutta!”

As usual, it’s not the costumes or the set design that command the S-E stage, it’s the student actors. Bekah Riley headlines as Cinderella, with a quiet charm and effortless grace. Eric Robertson can’t help but be charming as the sought-after prince – it’s pretty much his name, after all. Emilee Smith has plenty of choice moments as Cinderella’s beleaguered fairy godmother, and Jeff Taylor and Hannah Weinell enjoy a subtle chemistry as the prince’s watchful parents.

But the real stars of any production of “Cinderella,” Kabuki or not, are always the bad guys. Or in this case, girls. The best lines of the play go to the pretentious stepmother and sniveling stepsisters, played to perfection here by the trio of Stephanie Joyce, Brittany Clark and Kaitlyn Briggs. Maybe it’s just my tarnished soul, but I always route for the stepsisters to win.

So, if you’re looking for something different to do this weekend (and I mean completely different), you can’t go wrong with this Far East interpretation of “Cinderella.” Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday at the S-E auditorium. Tickets will be sold at the door.

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