Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The Dancing Princesses
The princesses refuse to reveal their nightly escape to a magical dream kingdom to dance until dawn. Wearing a cloak of invisibility, given to him by a strange woman in the woods, a returning soldier offers to solve the mystery and spends several nights secretly observing the princesses. Of course, he eventually unravels the sources of the enchantment and is permitted to wed one of the them.
Playwright McDonough adapted the tale for its world premiere production by ETC in 2017, and he incorporated a lot of humor and shenanigans. Since dancing is the source of wear and tear, Kisor's score and lyrics provide a bounty of inventive rhythms, everything from waltzes, ballet and tangos to soft-shoe, jitterbug and hip-hop. Several of the show's extended dance numbers, choreographed by Dee Anne Bryll, Patti James, and Lea Lachey, rotate through a whirlwind of energetically rendered steps.
The 14-member cast, many from ETC's Professional Acting Apprentice Program, are capable singers and dancers, especially the five princesses: Nritya (Shonita Joshi), Tusu (Malyssa Quinn), Natayla (Emmy Rice), Gidela (Elexis Selmon) and Tiva (Equity performer Brooke Steele). Each is costumed (by designer Reba Senske) in a singular primary color with a matching wig. As a five-member ensemble, these young women embrace McDonough's sassy, feminist take on the characters. They might be silly girls, but they're certainly not Disney princesses.
Stern and overbearing King Aldrin (veteran Ken Early, in a reserved performance) and his strict, domineering sister-in-law Zilda (Kate Wilford, another Equity member, who ranges through emotions from fury to sorrow while trying to keep the princesses under control) are balanced by Joziam (comic actor Michael G. Bath). As the king's chief aide who yearns for a career as a jester, Bath delivers an ongoing avalanche of lame puns. Andrew Maloney and Timothy Belton play a pair of weary, overworked cobblers charged with the daily repair of the princesses' damaged footwear while also having crushes on Nritya and Natayla.
Strong-voiced Antonio Cruz is Pharron, the returning soldier who solves the mystery. His performance of "The Power of Perception" and his comic dance lesson with Steele's Tiva are highlights. The strange woman in the woods who fills in much of the narrative is being played by ETC veteran Sara Mackie, reprising her performance from the show's 2017 debut. (On December 1, understudy Caroline Marino, another ETC apprentice handled the role.)
For a quarter-century, director D. Lynn Meyers has staged these holiday musicals, offered to subscribers during holiday evenings and as daytime performances for thousands of local school children. Working closely with McDonough and Kisor, Meyers has a commendable practice of providing meaningful contemporary morals that kids can grasp.
"We commissioned this play in 2017," she stated in advance publicity, "when we had just opened our newly renovated facilities. It gave us a sense of renewal then and gives us that same sense now after a tentative few years. This show ... is about how to never stop growing, learning, and moving forward. It's all about learning to thrive."
The Dancing Princesses' contemporary message is less sharply focused than some of Meyers' previous productions, which have included multiple iterations of Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. But this show, with its jaunty castle set (designed by Brian c. Mehring)–complete with clever pop-out beds for the princesses–and Kisor's melodic recorded score, is a good choice for families seeking December entertainment that's neither religious nor Dickensian. Kids will love the clowning by Bath, Steele, Maloney, and Nelson as well as the princesses' smart-aleck behavior and amusing physicality.
The Dancing Princesses runs through December 30, 2022, at Ensemble Theater Cincinnati, 1127 Vine St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please visit ensemblecincinnati.org or call 513-521-3555.