Magnificent, Outrageous Family Fun, Cinderella Christmas at the El Portal Theatre Through Jan. 8

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Veronica Dunne stars in this inspired production of “Cinderella Christmas.”

Cinderella Christmas was brought back to the El Portal Theatre by popular demand, and it continues to be a magnificent holiday treat. The fun-filled family friendly British Panto-style musical was a hit last holiday season, and lovely newcomer Veronica Dunne has returned in triumph to the titled role. Her sweet voice is ideal for the contemporary songs “Taking Chances” and “Breakaway.” Helping her spin the magic for the twisted classic fairytale is a new and extraordinary cast that makes the make-believe believable.

Outrageous side-splitting humor comes from Mark Edgar Stephens and Jeff Sumner playing the garishly dressed ugly stepsisters Cowel and Seecrest (it’s an inside joke everyone gets). They bring hilarity to a performance of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” Trying to avoid those “girls” is the gangly Prince Charming, with Nico Evers-Swindell giving the role a dorky spin. He delights with the “Just Haven’t Met You Yet” musical number with his manservant Dandini, played by David Hernandez (American Idol). But when Cinderella and the Prince duet on Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” Dunne and Evers-Swindell shine the brightest.

For vocal highlights, Shoshana Bean (Wicked), as the down-to-earth Fairy Godmother, delivers “When You Believe” and “Over the Rainbow” with the power of someone who can really grant wishes. And star-power is provided by comedy veteran Fred Willard who plays Cinderella’s down-on-his-luck father, Baron Hardup. Willard knows his way around funny bits and milks every laugh with ease.

Key to making a British Panto show work is audience participation, and that’s the role of Buttons, skillfully executed by Todd Buonopane. He speaks directly to the audience and gets them involved, especially the little tykes who excitedly cheer for the good guys and jeer the mean stepsisters. At the end of the show Buttons conducts the crowd-pleasing sing-a-long and brings some lucky kids on stage. It’s a good time for everyone, even Blitzen the miniature pony who pulls Cinderella’s carriage and trots off to the royal ball. Dancers Jesus Solario, Jonathan Platero, Randi Strong and Amber Williams add excitement to the show with the “Just Dance” and “Low” numbers.

Super-lively direction by Bonnie Lythgoe (from So You Think You Can Dance, Australia), the Lythgoe Family Production was written by Kris Lythgoe, who produced with Becky Baeling. Also part of the team is choreographer Mark Ballas (of Dancing with the Stars fame), musical director Michael Orland, and a bit of magic courtesy of Ed Alonzo. Lavish sets and costumes are part of the spectacular storybook production.

On the heels of his wildly successful A Snow White Christmas, which had a three week run earlier in December, producer Kris Lythgoe can be proud that he has brought the British Panto theater experience to California, and he intends to make it an annual tradition.

Cinderella Christmas will play until Jan. 8. Call the El Portal box office for tickets at (818) 508-4200, or online at www.elportaltheatre.com.

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Valley Variety

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