The Other Cinderella, Black Ensemble Theater. Revived every other year since 1976, when it launched the company, this musical version of the fairy tale has become a Chicago classic that’s updated as needed; this year’s production–part of Black Ensemble’s 25th-anniversary greatest-hits celebration–includes brief references to pagers and Web sites.
The show has aged well, perhaps because the thin plot, which doesn’t stray far from the Disney version, is almost beside the point. Showcased here are the cast’s stunning voices in uplifting original songs by company founder Jackie Taylor, Michael Ward, Herman Wheatley, and Joe Plummer. The characters are tailored to the African-American experience: Cinderella, played by Ardria (Randee) Pitman, is a girl from the projects whose mother abandoned her; her stepmother (a world-weary Shirley Wahls) works for the post office and is looking for a man to pay her bills; her ebullient fairy godmama (Cherisse A. Scott) is a voodoo practitioner. Both Cinderella and her prince (Terry Lloyd Price) come off as sullen and unlikable–making them a perfect match. The production sparkles thanks to a strong supporting cast, especially the charismatic Shasta Phillips, who threatens to steal the show as a feisty, fish-out-of-water page from the hood.
A five-piece band, led by musical director Jimmy Tillman, keeps the evening moving to its happily-ever-after conclusion.