Review: Glass Half Full’s Cenicienta

The bibbidi-bobbidi-boo in this bilingual Cinderella story lies in the storytelling

Madison Palomo as Belinda in Glass Half Full Theatre's Cenicienta (Photo by Chris Owe)

The Cinderella story is not a tale as old as time. That entitlement belongs to Beauty and the Beast, or so claims the title song from the 1991 Disney animated film. But the folktale about a young woman living in forsaken circumstances that suddenly change to remarkable fortune and her ascension to the throne by marriage dates back to Ancient Greece during the late first century BCE. It was told in China during the ninth century, and the German Brothers Grimm famously turned the folktale into a fairy tale – well, a fairy godmother tale – in 1812.

There are thousands of variants of the Cinderella story throughout the world, but perhaps none are as flat-out charming as the bilingual play Cenicienta, originally created by Austin's Caroline Reck of Glass Half Full Theatre in partnership with Rupert Reyes of Teatro Vivo. Commissioned by and staged at the Zach Theatre in 2015, this one-act, one-woman work has been revisited and returns home for a second staging.

The show is directed and largely designed (scenic, costume, and props) by Reck, with other design elements by Rachel Atkinson (lighting) and Pete Martinez (sound). The show stars UT-Austin grad Madison Palomo who, at 4 feet, 9 inches tall and very talented, is convincing as preteen Belinda, a budding poet who lives with her stepmother and stepsisters (voiced by Reck, Lilli Lopez, and Marina DeYoe-Pedraza). While her family gets ready for the reception they are throwing upstairs for the renowned Latinx author and poet Gary Soto (voiced by Reyes), Belinda is dispatched to the basement – a place with piles of discarded household objects, stacks of books, and chests full of old clothing – to fold napkins. Bored, belittled, and not invited to the party, Belinda lets her imagination run wild as she retells the classic Cinderella story – her story – using the everyday items that surround her as puppets and props. A simple napkin becomes Cenicienta and a glass napkin ring becomes her forsaken slipper. Her fairy godmother is an upside down teapot. Tall steel-wire mannequins adorned with vintage clothes become Belinda's departed parents, to whom she recites poems dedicated to their memory.

The show's posted age recommendation of "five & up," the program's offering of a fun wordsearch puzzle on the back, and attentive first-graders from Barbara Jordan Elementary School dominating the seating at the matinee of my attendance suggest that Cenicienta is children's theatre. Perhaps. But Palomo's remarkable craft and expressiveness as a storyteller rivals the performances at other Zach Theatre stagings, the delicate music (composed by Ammon Taylor, Francisco Villamizar, Paul Pinon, and Greg Goodman) that underscores each scene is worthy of mainstage productions, and the hour of escape into Belinda's inventiveness, sense of discovery, and humor was not be lost on adults in the audience. Nor would the moment when she takes charge of her life, allows her art to forge the path regardless of the consequences (how very Austin!), and obtains her happy ending.

Cenicienta's happy ending is that it will not end with this run at the Zach. The show will go on tour in January, bringing its unique brand of bibbidi-bobbidi-boo enchantment to places like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Glass Half Full's Cenicienta

Zach Theatre Kleberg Stage, 1421 W. Riverside, 512/476-0541
Through Dec. 9
Running Time: 45 mins.

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Glass Half Full, Cenicienta, Cinderella

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