Arts & Theatre

Matthew Bourne’s ‘Cinderella’ arrives at the Ahmanson

The famous choreographer’s work brings the past into the present through the lens of a classic tale.

Twenty years since it first arrived in the United States, “Cinderella” returns to the American stage at the Ahmanson Theatre under the direction of Matthew Bourne. 

Bourne is no stranger to the world of dance. He is famous for choreographing productions of “Swan Lake,” “Mary Poppins,” and “The Red Shoes” over the course of his over 30-year career.

“Cinderella” is set in 1940 in London in the middle of World War II. It heavily focuses on the London Blitz, a series of bombings in London by the Germans. This event serves a key role in Matthew Bourne’s refreshing take on the classic “Cinderella.” Bourne mentioned in a Center Theatre Group video that the bombing of the Café de Paris in 1941 was especially inspirational. This inspiration can be seen in the set, designed by Lez Brotherston, in which the rubble of a once vibrant nightclub is brought back to life. The sign that hangs above the ballroom even reads ‘Café de Paris’ in homage. 

The impending sense of danger and fear of bombings lingers throughout the piece. People are overly careful and cautious as they walk down the street. Even at the ball, the Angel is forced to leave the event in order to stop a bomb from affecting the guests at the party. 

Another effective method of evoking the fear of the time period is through film. The show opens with a short film, "What to do in an Air Raid." This archival footage grounds the adaptation in its time period. It is projected on the screen as townspeople onstage watch with concern. This gives the audience a peek into the fright and anxiety that the population in London during the Blitz.

Following the film, the main cast of characters is introduced. The audience also meets the Angel (Liam Mower), the guiding light for Cinderella to find Harry, the pilot and soon to be love of her life.

Cinderella, beautifully performed by Ashley Shaw, swimmingly leads us through the show. She immediately tends to an injured World Warr II pilot that stumbles into her life who turns out to be Harry (Andrew Monaghan). Later in the show, she is guided by the Angel through the streets of London to get to the ball and is reunited with him at the end of the piece.

The lead performers are supported by a wonderful ensemble. From start to finish, the ensemble navigates the audience through Cinderella’s pilgrimage to the ball, and right onto the steps of the train at the end of the ballet when we see she and Harry happily board together.
The lighting design by Neil Austin was a bit distracting at times, but generally clarified moments in the show. Paul Groothuis’ sound design was fantastic and went effortlessly with Prokofiev’s pre-recorded orchestra. The surround-sound style listening experience was a bit much sometimes, but as a whole, it made the journey all the more believable. Brotherston’s set and costumes fit the period and emotion of the show and added to the believability. 
Overall, the design comes together effectively and cohesively under the directorial eye of Matthew Bourne, whose direction and choreography makes the entire piece worthwhile.

“Cinderella” runs now through March 10th at the Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased here.