Cinderella

The timeless fairy tale "Cinderella" seems a natural fit for the whimsical British entertainment form panto, which is largely unknown in the U.S., though it was a forerunner to vaudeville and burlesque. The bawdiness that characterizes authentic panto isn't emphasized in director Bonnie Lythgoe and writer Kris Lythgoe's British-produced staging, offered as a holiday-season family attraction. Nonetheless, tongue-in-cheek humor and audience participation dominate this zany amalgam of the vaguely historic and the deliberately anachronistic. The results are sometimes amusing though quite rough around the edges.

The goofy sensibility began with the casting. Jerry Mathers (yes, "Leave It to Beaver") plays Cinderella's widowed father, Baron Hardup, leading to endlessly milked jokes. The sitcom's familiar musical theme plays each time Mathers enters or exits, and the baron quips, "I should never have left Mayfield" (the utopian American suburb in the series). Unfortunately, Mathers delivers a nondescript portrayal. Freddie Stroma (the "Harry Potter" films) fares better as the self-
important Prince Charming, relishing the affected nobility of his cardboard hero role. In a bit of gender-bending humor, Cinderella's evil stepsisters are audaciously played by Mark Edgar Stephens and Eddie Driscoll, in outrageously campy costumes by Qdos Entertainment UK, which also produced the appealing cartoon-style sets. At the reviewed matinee, Stephens' character took repeated delight in flirtatiously chiding an audience member seated toward the front.

Veronica Dunn is charming and sings sweetly as the titular heroine. The ever-
vivacious Jennifer Leigh Warren gets insufficient chance to show her chops as the Fairy Godmother but shines whenever she's on. Benny Harris evokes laughs as an emcee of sorts, the bungling Australian servant Buttons. Stephens' quip that Buttons is "big Down Under" is about as dicey as the show gets.

The young ensemble cast, which incorporates alumni from TV's "So You Think You Can Dance," is generally more enthusiastic than accomplished, gamely cavorting through ballroom, minuet, and ballet routines, to the beat of uncredited pop and rock tunes. The choreographer is Mark Ballas of "Dancing With the Stars."

Presented by Lythgoe Family Productions at the El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Nov. 27–Dec. 19. Variable schedule. (818) 508-4200. www.elportaltheatre.com.

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