“Welcome to the Kingdom of Other,” says a tiny volunteer usher in pigtails as she hands out programs. She’s right about everything – the welcome, the kingdom and, most importantly, the other. For over 40 years, Black Ensemble Theater has mounted The Other Cinderella, a retelling of the familiar fairytale in which Cinderella isn’t the only one who feels left out.
In this raucous version, brothers from the Hood, a stepmother who works for the U.S. postal service and an overly timid prince are all “others.”They are all struggling to find their place at the ball – the ball of life, that is. The Caribbean-style Fairy Godmother(Robin DaSilva) has to assert herself without a wand; instead, she digs into a huge handbag. For good measure, a very white Dorothy (Colleen Perry) arrives from Kansas with an urge to belong to this African-American kingdom where the beat is way funkier than Oz.
Holiday buzz at Black Ensemble Theater
There’s not a hint of red or green anywhere, yet the spirit of the season fuses every inch of the BET from the musicians on a platform above the set, to every actor down below, from that youthful usher, to a theater dog named Bandit who makes an appearance at intermission – ‘tis the time for self-discovery.
That’s the beauty of this show, created by Artistic Director Jackie Taylor in 1976: layers added to the standard tale involve characters who find their inner strength. Cinderella doesn’t just get a pretty dress from Fairy Godmother. She gets a scolding. “Okay, Cinderella,” admonishes Fairy Godmother. “You’re 21. Don’t you think it’s about time to take care of yourself?”Deemed too quiet by his loud father the King (Dwight Neal), the Prince (Blake Hawthorne) has to make himself heard. He also has to learn to work hard for what he wants. When his father tells him to try that slipper on every woman in the kingdom, the prince argues that the task is too overwhelming. But with an aggressive push, the Prince perseveres until he succeeds.
The Other Cinderella explores status
Everyone gets their song and their moment to examine their own status in the Kingdom, where classic details mesh easily with contemporary references. For Groundhog (Vincent Jordan), Pee Wee (Blake Reasoner) and Peanut Butter (Michael Adkins), it’s “Respect the Brothers from the Hood.” Even the stiff-upper-lip Attendant (Lemond Hayes) and fetching Lady-in-Waiting (Micah Materre) get beyond their insecurities to uncover a longstanding attraction in “Look at Me.” The squabbling stepsisters (Jasmine Bomer and Justis Drakes) tell Cinderella to “Wash Them Walls” in Act I; by the end of Act II, they’re tasked with washing the walls of Cinderella’s royal new home. As Stepmama (Rhonda Preston) leads her demoted daughters away, they nonetheless plead “Mama, can we stop by White Castle?”
The able cast and band keep the audience of all ages clapping, tapping, laughing and enjoying themselves.By playing with tradition, Taylor and her team continue to offer a refreshingly non-traditional way to brighten the coming winter months.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
Jayla Williams-Craig, Blake Hawthorne, Chantee Joy, Dwight Neal, Rhonda Preston, Jasmine Bomer, Justis Drakes, Robin DaSilva, Stewart Romeo, Michael Adkins, Blake Reasoner, Lemond Hayes, Micah Materre, Colleen Perry, Vincent Jordan
Jackie Taylor (Author, Director, Costume Designer), Denise Karczewski (Lighting Designer), David Samba (Sound Designer), Melah Heidenreich (Prop Designer), Evan Joseph Frank (Set Design), Robert Reddrick (Music Director), Jessica Moore (Stage Manager), Nic Belanger (Technical Director)
Now January 19, 2020
Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center,
4450 N. Clark Street in Chicago
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her radio drama In the Shadows aired on BBC Radio 4 last season.