It's obvious, from the opening scene, that Emerald City Theatre's production of "Cinderella" isn't a copycat version of the popular Disney princess story.
For starters, Cinderella is a brunette. She looks more like Katy Perry than the blond cartoon princess.
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"Cinderella"★ ★ ★
Showtimes: 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, plus weekday matinees on varied days; through Jan. 6
Where: Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadway inchicago.com
She's also a tougher, more modern woman than the storybook character: At one point, she sword fights with the prince, and initially opts to travel the world rather than accept his marriage proposal.
Plus, the show-stealing evil stepsisters are played by two men in drag.
All of this might be a little much for fairy tale traditionalists. However, the well-written script, dotted with subtle comedy, makes this hourlong children's play fun for both children and adults.
As everyone knows, the story centers on the tortured beauty Cinderella (Missy Karle), forced into a life of chores by her evil stepmother and stepsisters.
While cleaning a rug outside, Cinderella meets Prince Jason (Blake Reddick) and his conniving valet (Corey L. Mills), who are lost and trying to find their way back to the castle. Prince Jason is immediately smitten, and mentions his winter ball that night.
As her stepmother and stepsisters prepare for the ball, Cinderella realizes she can't go because she doesn't have a dress or shoes. She seems to focus most on the shoes, even though what she ends up with is a heeled sandal and not a glass slipper. The words "glass slipper" are never mentioned, actually.
Cinderella tells her animal friends how much she'd like a nice pair of shoes, at which point one of them turns into her fairy godmother and transforms her from rag-wearing housekeeper into glamorous ball guest. The story then plays out as you'd expect, with a few extra laughs at the end.
The snooty stepsisters are the highlight. The stocky-built Grace (Tommy Bullington) and pouty Temperance (Mark Kosten) whine and pine for the prince while in heavy makeup and heels, drawing consistent laughs from the audience and overshadowing Cinderella and Prince Jason.
The set is sparse, and the show's short songs aren't particularly catchy (with the exception of an upbeat number called, "The Prince Has Got it Bad"). But the pacing is perfect, the acting and singing are solid, and this production of "Cinderella" is enjoyable. It's recommended for ages 3 to 10. However, keep in mind that girls in that upper age range might have a too-cool-for-Cinderella attitude. Rest assured, the play is geared to them, too. Not just little girls.
Despite the twist on the classic story, the common sentiment from adults exiting the theater was, "That was cute."
If you're not overwhelmed by Michigan Avenue during the holiday season, the theater is in a great location -- next to Water Tower Place mall. With almost all performances starting midmorning, it's a nice way to kick off a day downtown with the daughters.