The Other Cinderella, performing now through January 13th at the Black Ensemble Theater, could never be accused of being low energy. Whereas most children theater is content to use canned music, the Black Ensemble Theater rocks it out with their house band. In fact, longtime ensemble veteran Robert Reddrick (Musical Director and Drums) provides such a charge to the production it is easy to forget one is watching a play aimed primarily for pre-teens (albeit a play that has sixteen song and dance numbers designed to bring the house down). The last time I saw so many middle aged adults dancing in their seats it was at a Rod Stewart concert. Come to think of it, the first time The Other Cinderella was performed before a live audience, Rod Stewart was just starting out.
First co-written and starred in by Jackie Taylor in 1976, The Other Cinderella has been performed every other year. It was originally put together in less than four weeks from a non-musical script intended to help inner city children better relate to theater. Updated through the years, the action takes place in the present with characters often texting and otherwise behaving like 21st century folks. Cinderella here is a sassy young adult who has been abandoned, not orphaned, by her parents. Her step mom is still evil, but also holds down a job at the post office. The fairy godmother is a “Fairygodmama” from Jamaica. And prominently featured throughout the play are a group of teens called the “Hoodies” who are loud and loyal to each other. Cinderella still loses her slipper, but the play also has some fun with cultural stereotypes and makes sure that Cinderella learns a few things about empowerment.
Leading the way in this production is Ta-Tynisa Wilson as Cinderella. A past American Idol contestant, Wilson possesses a singing voice worthy of the Black Ensemble Theater. Complimenting her was a tremendous amount of both veteran and emerging talent. I was especially awed by the commanding presence of David Simmons (Attendant) and Dwight Neal (King). Raymond Wise (The Page) also stood out for his stage charisma and scene stealing charm. And A’rese Emokpae, as the Fairy Godmamama, showed off a strong singing voice to go along with her lyrical dancing.
If I had one criticism for the production, it would be the amount of musical numbers present in the play. Sixteen numbers is a lot for a performance aimed primarily at children. Do not get me wrong, the music here is mostly good. But outside of Wash Them Walls, I doubt that many patrons are going to be singing the music on their way home from the theater. That aside, The Other Cinderella is a creative and engaging piece of work that never insults the intelligence of its audience. It is as entertaining today as it must have been thirty six years ago.
Bottom Line: The Other Cinderella is recommended and is playing at the Black Ensemble Theater (4450 N. Clark) through January 13th. My nine year old daughter loved the performance, but younger children might have trouble sitting through the performance. Tickets range from $55 to $65 with a 10% discount for seniors, students, and groups. To purchase tickets, click here: http://www.blackensembletheater.org/ or call 773-769-4451. For more information about this or other productions, click here: http://www.theatreinchicago.com/
Photos by: Danny Nicholas