CEDAR RAPIDS — Cinderella charmed her handsome prince and enchanted young and old alike at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday night. (4/13/13) It repeats at 2:30 p.m. today (4/14/13).
Before the show even started, a sweet little girl behind me couldn’t contain her giddiness and declared to her parents: “I can’t wait to see Cinderella.” As the audience was exiting 90 minutes later, a distinguished gentleman turned and said to his friends: “Aren’t we glad the ballet came to town.”
My sentiments exactly. This new pairing of Orchestra Iowa and Ballet Quad Cities is magical indeed.
The two entities brought Sergei Prokofiev’s 1945 ballet to its toes and a large audience to its feet with an evening that kept even the tiniest princesses enthralled. I heard no fussing, saw no squirming, but did notice plenty of souvenir tiaras bobbing through the lobby afterward. The little girl behind me was hoping to snag a magic wand during intermission. She happily settled for a candy bar.
The orchestra, as always, was magnificent, weaving through music that’s no fairytale to play. This is a demanding score that perfectly captures the flavor of every moment and propels every twirl of Ballet Quad Cities’ immense artistry.
The overture conjures up an ominous, foreboding atmosphere before the curtain rises on a lone girl sitting at a table, sewing a lovely shoulder drape. She is dressed in a simple blue, floral frock — not rags — but a broom leaning against a bench lets us know she is regarded as little more than a scullery maid in her own home.
Emily Kate Long is the picture of innocence, strength and hope as she endures the taunts of her mean Stepmother (Marie Buser) and bratty Stepsisters (Kelsee Green and Margaret Huling). The terrible trio is hilarious at every turn — Buser strutting with her nose in the air and Green and Huling galumphing through their awkward, comical movements. I suspect it takes just as much talent to dance without grace as it does to execute the perfect pirouette.
Especially hilarious is the scene after the young ladies are issued their invitation to the palace ball. An uppity dance master (Calvin Rowe) in engaged to try to teach the girls the steps necessary to walk their two left feet right into the prince’s heart. They fail miserably, while Cinderella takes it all in from the shadows and shines.
Also in the dark is Cinderella’s father (Cedar Rapids actor and radio personality Scott Schulte), a piece of milquetoast so soggy he can’t find his footing in his own dysfunctional household. He seems to have a bewildered fondness for his daughter, but the horrid women rule the roost under his roof. Luckily, Cinderella has enough pluck to rise above it all, even if it’s only in her daydreams.
This rags-to-riches tale has been told in many ways through the ages, but we see the main elements we’ve come to expect, with a few twists. We don’t see a pumpkin transform into a glittering coach, but we do see another magical transformation.
Shortly after the Stepsisters snatch Cinderella’s lovely dresses, leaving her nothing to wear to the ball, a breath of crystalline loveliness floats into her life, waving a brightly glowing wand.
The elegant Fairy Godmother (Jill Schwartz) transports Cinderella from her dreary, stone kitchen to an enchanted forest where she encounters a comical toad and bug, along with a legion of fluttering fireflies, dragonflies, tiny bugs, pixies and fairies. Their task is easy — to dress Cinderella’s beautiful spirit in a beautiful gown and send her to the ball. This is a most delightful scene, capturing the fancy of all ages in the audience.
After intermission comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for — the ball. Majesty abounds as all the young women hope for their turn dancing with the handsome Prince (Jacob Lyon). The Stepsisters’ choreography could easily steal the scene, were it not for the love-at-first-sight chemistry between Lyon and Long. They are in their own enchanted world during several pas de deux passages full of regal lifts and spins just dripping in romance and supreme artistry. His power and her grace are sheer poetry in motion.
The clock strikes 12 with such visual and aural majesty that I didn’t even see Cinderella disappear. But soon the dreary kitchen reappears, with the Stepmother and sisters in their camisoles, slips and pettipants, greeting the prince and his friends who are conducting a frantic search for the foot that fits the sparkling toe-shoe slipper Cinderella lost in her hasty retreat from the palace.
The fun we expect ensues as the girls try to cram their feet into the petite shoe. Nothing can compare, however, with the cougar seduction attempt by the Stepmother, as Buser throws her foot high above her head, exposing the Prince to her physical charms. She is hilarious throughout the show, but especially in this blatant disregard for decorum.
Just then, Cinderella steps from the shadows to produce the matching slipper. Sparks fly between the Prince and Cinderella’s outstretched hands, bringing the happily-ever-after ending that can melt even the most cynical heart.
Everything about this production is magical, from Courtney Lyon’s beautiful choreography perfectly in synch with the powerful music under Maestro Timothy Hankewich’s baton, to the elegance and humor of the dancers and the simply lovely costumes, backdrops and lighting.
Orchestra Iowa and Ballet Quad Cities is a match made in heaven.
What: “Cinderella,” by Orchestra Iowa and Ballet Quad Cities
Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday (4/14/13)
Tickets: $20 to $50, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Orchestraiowa.org
Also: 1 and 7:30 p.m. April 20, 2013, Adler Theatre, Davenport; $12 to $35, Balletquadcities.com