There are no carriages turning into pumpkins to be seen in Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, an enchanting, contemporary ballet currently being presented by New Adventures at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Instead, this interpretation of the classic fairy tale takes place over a backdrop of a city in turmoil at the height of World War II, crafting a new story of lovers torn apart until they are reunited, thanks, of course, to a very special shoe.
Directed and choreographed by Bourne, Cinderella is set in 1940s London as the city is rocked by bombings. Elements of the story remain the same—Cinderella (Cordelia Braithwaite) works as a maid at the home of her evil, alcoholic stepmother (Anjali Mehra). Her father (Danny Reubens) is very ill, and she is regularly tormented by her two wicked stepsisters (Stephanie Billers and Daisy May Kemp). When everyone is invited to a lavish party except for Cinderella, she feels forlorn—until a mysterious figure known as the Angel (Paris Fitzpatrick) appears, essentially to play the role of fairy godmother.
Cinderella gets to attend the party, in a beautiful gown, and while there she has a moment with a Royal Air Force pilot (Andrew Monaghan). The two escape the festivities and spend the night together, but the next morning, The Blitz occurs. They are separated in the chaos, and a disoriented Cinderella ends up in the hospital, sans one of her shoes. The pilot desperately searches London for her, fearing the worst, but thanks to love, persistence, and some nudging on the part of the Angel, they find each other once again.
This production combines contemporary dance with classic ballet, all set to music by Prokofiev, which was pre-recorded by a 60-piece orchestra and plays in surround sound (designed by Paul Groothius). The design elements are lush and extravagant. Lez Brotherston’s sets help the action transition seamlessly from Cinderella’s home, to the ball, to the warn-torn streets of London, to the hospital and beyond, creating a world that feels as expansive as a proper fairy tale requires. The actors do not speak or sing, expressing themselves only via dance and movement, but even the parts of the story that are a departure from the most well-known version are perfectly clear and effective.
Told in three forty minute acts separated by two intermissions, the story moves at a dazzling clip, the magnetic performers easily holding the audience’s attention. If the score was performed live, it would surely only add another layer of greatness to the piece, but for the most part the pre-recorded tracks are effective enough. As one would expect, the sequences at the “ball,” which is more of a fancy party in this iteration, are the most memorable, with Cinderella clad in her iconic sparkly dress, but there are also lovely quieter moments, such as Cinderella and the pilot’s eventual reunion at the hospital. There are also some modern touches to the story that feel appropriate for 2019, even if it takes place 80 years ago. As romances unfold in the city amongst the ensemble members, one is between two men, and it is nice to see an often outdated, heteronormative fairy tale be brought into the 21st century a bit. Overall, this Cinderella makes for a charming evening at the theater that is a bit of a departure from your typical musical or ballet, creating a unique blend of art with a happy ending that casts a spell.
Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella runs at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre through March 10th. The running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including two intermissions. Please note that most roles are double cast and the performers mentioned in this review will not appear on all dates. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased here. To enter a daily lottery to win $25 tickets, download the TodayTix app.