Just in time for the holidays, the Ojai Art Center Theater presents Cinderella, through Dec. 16. The delightful production is in the style of an English pantomime, or panto. That is to say, it’s a boisterous musical comedy based on a fairy tale,featuring gender-bending roles, local lore and lots of talk-back from the audience.
Skillfully directed by Richard Kuhlman and produced by Lin Coleman, the production holds fast to the loose, fractured structure of a traditional panto. Yet it feels very of-the-moment, with sly references and inside jokes about things that are distinctly Ojai (yarn bomb anyone?). It’s a Christmas love letter to the town, but anyone, from anywhere, can find the joy in it and feel right at home.
The play opens with the Fairy Godmother (the perfectly cast Sindy McKay-Swerdlove) singing about the lovely Cinderella (the charming Denise Heller). The poor lass has been reduced to a scullery maid by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters, the aptly named Mrs. Baden-Rotten and her daughters Goneril and Regan (a nod to King Lear’s horrible offspring). They are played with delicious, outrageous glee by Marisa Miculian, Marilyn Lazik and Sheila McCarthy. All the while, Cinderella’s father, the Baron, has dissolved into a lovable mess. Tarrara Boomdeay is spot-on as the boozy Baron. (Rumor has it that T.B. is actually Susan Kelejian.)
Meanwhile, the queen and king want their son to get married. The royals are played to great comic effect by Anna Kotula and the young actor Coree Serena Kotula. Jodi Brandt is Prince Charming, in a gender-bending role. The production throws in more than a few playful twists along the way. For one thing (on second thought, make that three), a trio of Ninjas (Don Gaidano, Lenny Klaif and John Valenzuela) play various roles to help move the story along — or rather, steer it wildly off the rails. Then there is Dandini (the endearing Bodhi Bourbon), the prince’s aide who falls for Bo Beep (the hilarious Michael McCarthy in drag), Buttons (the bubbly Poosy Holmes), Cinderella’s cockney friend, and Knickers (the adorable Brett Baxter), a cheeky clown.
Rounding out the cast is a dancing bear, of course (Anna Kotula in a dual role). The wonderful Andy Street accompanies the action on the piano. Originally conceived and directed by Paul Whitworth, with book and lyrics by Kate Hawley and music by Gregg Coffin, Cinderella is brought to magical, technicolor life by its gifted cast and crew, including music director Jaye Hersh, production designer Steve Mitchell, lighting designer Caroline McDonald, costumer Janna Valenzuela, prop mistress Kitty Bartholomew and stage managers Wenona Guthrie and Sue Barry. (The uncredited makeup artist does a spectacular job.) Full of silliness and childlike wonder, Cinderella invites you to bask in its high-spirited holiday glow. Go, you’ll have a ball.
Cinderella through Dec. 16 at the Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 S. Montgomery St., Ojai. For tickets and more information, call 805-640-8797 or visit www.ojaiact.org.