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"CINDERELLA": The Paradise Theatre version is a hoot. Facebook photo

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Let's face it - we already know the plot. The King of Memphis is outside holding court when an eagle drops a shoe in his lap. It turns out the shoe belongs to Rhodopsis, "Rosycheeks," a Greco-Egyptian slave girl living in Naucratis ... Wait. That's the earlier Greek version of the story. In the Disneyfied Franco-Germa-pean version, the evil stepsisters are blinded by birds in the gory finale ... no, that's "Aschenputtel," the Grimm brothers' version from the 18-teens. A Philippine variant includes a dead mom reincarnated as a crab.

Clearly, there's room for any number of takes on our cherished Cinderella story.

The longer I do this job, the faster I can tell when I'm in capable hands. This time it took seconds. Driving up to Paradise Theatre's rustic lot in Gig Harbor, a dozen junior "princesses" in ball gowns greeted us with squeals and enthusiastic waves. It was the perfect introduction to Fantasyland. I honestly can't think of a smarter welcome. We were charmed to see several young audience members in gowns as well. It's a story that encourages cosplay.

Yet I was nervous walking in - owing, not to any obvious warning signs, but to tension behind the scenes. Offended by my review of his previous production, director Jeff Richards denied the Volcano the customary comp tickets and ‘declined' a critique. It doesn't work that way, we decided. A director can't pick and choose what gets reviewed, because critics don't work for him or her. We're not publicists. Our goals are to promote the appreciation of theater in general and to improve the work of specific companies, as a service to participating actors and technicians, paying audiences, and producers and directors themselves.

Richards needn't have worried, though; his show is a hoot. Cinderella may not be the best-remembered Rodgers and Hammerstein musical now, but it was a pretty big deal in its heyday. It was written for CBS and was seen by more than 100 million people in 1957, at a time when the entire U.S. population was only 150 million people. The Paradise version borrows heavily from a 1997 production for Whitney Houston and Brandy on The Wonderful World of Disney. It's amusingly hip. Cinderella, for example, is described as "foine," and Annette Seymour brings welcome attitude to a tough-love spin on the Fairy Godmother.

The cast and combo settled in nicely after fumbles in the opening number. Rebecca Wyman makes a lovely princess bride, and Ryan Boehme an unthreateningly handsome prince. Camp elements, including drag stepsisters (Jeffrey Bassett and Howard Knickerbocker) and an over-the-top stepmother (Tamara Nelson), are used to consistently funny effect. Eli Ghorley earns laughs as Lionel the page, and the stage is amply populated with animal-costumed kids. The tone is pitched halfway between vintage Disney and Shrek, and it works. Little girls will adore it, and their parents will find much to enjoy. Frickin' laser beams, people. Laser beams!

Vicki Richards's choreography is smooth throughout, and while the set changes might be a tad overambitious for a largely youthful cast, they use the deep space effectively. The lighting design hits and misses, but the costumes, by Betty Boyd and her team of five, are terrific throughout. Cinderella is worth a drive over the bridge, especially if you're a parent of a Disney-smitten daughter. So relax, Paradise Theatre. Not every show will be a winner, and no show pleases everyone. That's the way of our business. But happily for all concerned, this particular episode has a fairytale ending.


Through Aug. 21, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
3 p.m. Sunday, $10-$22
Paradise Theatre, 9911 Burnham Dr. NW, Gig Harbor

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