Over the decades, the story of Cinderella has gone through many variant permutations: from the original publication of Charles Perrault's classic story in 1697; to Ever After, the film adaptation which was made some 300 years later and starred Drew Barrymore; Disney's animated version in 1950; and most recently, the studio's live-action remake this past year. Another version has found its way in downtown Manhattan at the Minetta Lane Theatre; it's given a certain burlesque twist as only Austin McCormick and his Bacchanalian band of misfits at Company XIV can provide. Following the success of their now-perennial holiday hit, Nutcracker Rouge (which first played at the Minetta Lane back in 2013 and will return again this November), as well as their seductive romp on unrequited romance, Rococo Rouge (which, in turn, premiered last year at a smaller venue in the East Village), XIV has quickly gained a strong following—and equally formidable presence in the downtown theater scene.
With their growing reputation, along with their flair for the fantastical, one can only wonder what they can do with a story like Cinderella. What they end up doing is what they've always done and done well: serve up that blend of opera, circus, vaudeville, cabaret and dance that has become unique to the XIV style. There are gender-bending performers onstage, dancing along to a hip, genre-bending soundtrack. There are thrilling dances, choreographed by McCormick himself, steeped in their now-signature baroque style. There are titillating costumes, set against equally fetishistic lighting and sets, each designed brilliantly by Zane Pihlstrom and Jeanette Yew, respectively. And while XIV certainly has developed their own stamp, stylistically—they are also not the kind to rest on their heavily-gilded laurels.
Here, they amp up other elements which have entertained audiences in the past—both their own, and the ones in King Louis XIV's own courts: that of comedy and farce. While we've seen shades of comedy in previous XIV productions (most notably in Jeff Takacs' and Shelly Watson's performances in both Nutcracker and Rococo), we've never seen it thrown under the spotlight in quite this way before. This is mainly due to company regular Brett Umlauf (last seen in Rococo) and XIV newcomer Marcy Richardson as the evil stepsisters, who—in lieu of an off-key "Sing, Sweet Nightingale" flute-off—participate in very, very high-pitched operatic duels and hilarious attempts at playing "Fur Elise" with glasses of water in-between acts. Also adding to the comedic mix is the always fabulous Davon Rainey as the Stepmother, whose vacillation between his double-act as the bizarro, 18th-century version of a "mom-ager" to the two sisters (Kris Jenner, eat your heart out), and a Mom-zilla to Cinderella is at once frightening and awe-inspiring—in the best way ever.
Grounding the comedy with XIV's unmistakable brand of seduction are the equally-captivating performances of company regulars Katrina Cunningham, Steven Trumon Gray and Allison Ulrich as The Fairy, The Prince and our heroine Ella, respectively. Eternally ethereal in both presence and voice, Cunningham is perfectly cast as The Fairy, lending an interesting sensuality to the role not often seen in other adaptations of the tale. Her entrance alone is a heart-stopping sight to behold, not unlike the one induced by the flamenco dance sequence in 2013's Nutcracker. Gray's own entrance is one more in keeping with Cinderella's comical tone, providing a great contrast to his masculine aerial performance. However, it is Ulrich as the titular Ella who not only shows emotional depth with a simple gesture, but also incredible physical prowess despite her charmingly diminutive frame (see: above left picture).
Once again, Company XIV proves their staying power, spreading their signature grown-up magic onto a childhood favorite. Their spin on Cinderella is rife with sumptuous desire at every turn: where the Fairy Godmother is no longer a bumbling elderly lady, but a beautiful young woman bedecked in gold; where the mice turn into the hottest footmen around and the courtiers partake in dances that veer more toward frequenters of the S&M underworld than the ballrooms of Versailles. However, in true XIV style, it never crosses the line over into vulgarity—but rather, revels in flirting with that very line. Perrault may have won our hearts over with his tale back in the day, but if this critic had her way, this Cinderella would dominate the fairy-tale canon. After all, what's a happy ending without a little bit of danger along the way?
Cinderella runs until Nov.15 at the Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane between MacDougal and 6th Ave.) in Manhattan. Performances are Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. The shows contain partial nudity: 16 and over are admitted. Tickets for Cinderella range from $40 to $65 with premium and VIP seating from $75 to $105. For more information about this and other Company XIV productions, please visit http://CompanyXIV.com.