Chicago Theatre Review
Tiny Feet can fill large shoes
Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes – The Hypocrites
With the state of the world as it is and winter on wing, it would be such a nice thing to have a bright, warm place to could go and sit amongst people who make you laugh and feel welcome. How fortunate then that the Hypocrites have created just such a place and just such an ensemble to wrap us up and schnoodle us, at Pauline Viardot-Garcia’s Theater of Potatoes.
A diva, composer, and patroness, Pauline Viardot-Garcia’s (Leslie Ann Sheppard) salons were the nurturing sun of the late 19th century, growing scores of artists and musicians across Europe, cultivating strong feelings of equality, social justice and feminism. Tonight, she has gathered us all to her famed Theater of Potatoes to enjoy her new opera Cendrillon, a new take on the old myth, where Cinderella (Amanda Martinez) longs to follow her passion for music despite the stern and selfish dictates of her guardian The Baron (Joel Rodriguez). To give life to her creation Pauline calls upon some of her beloved guests to fill the roles and supply the orchestra: Fanny Mendelssohn (Dana Omar) as the brilliant Composer, with George Sand (Gay Glenn) as her Valet. The baron is assayed by novelist Ivan Turgenev, the operatically inclined stepsister’s Adelind and Mergatroid (Aja Wiltshire and Elle Walker), played by Pauline and Ivan’s daughters, respectively, while the cook steps into the spotlight as the musically gifted orphan.
Adapted and tweaked by Andra Velis Simon and directed by Sean Graney, the same team that, in the passed, have gifted us the Hypocrites renditions of The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado, and HMS Pinafore, Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes is a force of joy. Unspooling over Regina Garcia’s dazzlingly colorful and intricate set (a blindingly colorful wonderland; a physical delight to look upon and climb over) and bedecked in Alison Siple’s recreations of French finery, the cast caper and swan and josh with the audience like old friends. Velis Simon’s script possesses a charming whimsicality and tongue-in-cheekiness (“We took a few liberties with the timeline.” “So we all wouldn’t be dead!”) but still manages to float the refinement of a 19th century French opera, studded with stirring reflections about the nature of kindness and courage. And there’s potato soup to share at the end.
Sheppard’s fulsome energy provides the melody for the cast. with her elegant asides and a clear, strong glockenspiel voice. Glenn captures Sand’s exuberance, the hopeful relishing her chance to perform. The Baron and his daughters, rather than miring themselves in wickedness, opt instead to prance along the primrose way of the laughably evil. Rodriguez’s underhanded deadpan of the Baron, coupled with Ivan’s habit of chiming in on Pauline’s narrations, provoke gales of laughter, while Wiltshire’s snooty panache gusts her around the stage, and Walker captures Mergatroid’s charming insensitivity with her sweet and plucky obliviousness.
However fine an harmony the cast makes together though two performances are undeniably glittering. Omar’s portrayal of Fanny Mendelssohn, slightly self doubting but totally game, always a half step-behind all the other proceedings, slowly blossoms into the electric excitement of the Composer and her striving for perfection. She also possesses a truly beautiful voice, like melting butter laced with cinnamon: warm and sweet, rippling golden waves of delectable sound. And Martinez steals the show, and knocks us flat, with her exquisite musical skill. Her effervescent Cinderella is perfectly pitched as the hopeful but frustrated heroine, and her singing is a wonder: soaring, resonating, and resounding notes. We may have to suspend our disbelief about her tiny feet but her much lauded voice, and her incredible talent, is plain for all to hear.
The joy of Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes, and what Graney has done so well, is that it feel like a salon. It’s not a performance, but a bathing of extremely talented people, sharing stories that they care about with great enthusiasm. The organic feeling that everyone is doing their part, even the audience, is a hallmark of the Hypocrites preferred aesthetic, and a cornerstone of Graney and Velis Simon’s work. It makes one feel welcome, happy, and stays, warm and fluttering behind the breastbone, long after you’ve gone out into the cold.
by Ben Kemper
The Hypocrites at the Den Theater MainStage 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave
(Off the Division Blue Line)
Free vegan soup after performances.
Fridays at 8, Saturday’s at 3 & 8, Sundays at 3.
(special performances December 22 and 29th at 8).
Tickets: $36, Students $15, Groups of 8 or more $18 per person
Tickets on sale at www.the-hypocrties.com
For more information about this and other productions visit www.theaterinchicago.com