Kris Lythgoe's A Cinderella Christmas at North Hollywood's El Portal Theatre is this week's Pick.
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Playwright Kerr Seth Lordygan grapples with some profound subject matter in his drama set in an old people's home. The inhabitants are facing relocation and an uncertain future, so tempers are flaring. Eventually some deep and harrowing memories resurface and unexpected connections are revealed. To his credit, early on Lordygan deftly elicits sympathy for his characters, with the prickly banter between the old couple Milly (Kenlyn Kanouse) and Irving (Joseph Cardinale) cross-cut with their tender courtship decades earlier (young Mille is Beth Ricketson, young Irving an excellent Adam Coggins). RJ Farrington is great as the gruff and sassy nurse, her stern quips masking true affection for her charges, while Taylor Ashbrook delivers her usual grace as the caring nurse. Sabrina Lloyd's sensitive direction maximizes the script's nuances and allows room for meaningful glances. Less successful are the too numerous monologues from old-timer Sylvia, who has dementia, yet Ivy Jones brings some magnificence to her ramblings before the play devolves into histrionics. Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Valley Village; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through Feb. 13. (818) 508-3003, eclecticcompanytheatre.org. (Pauline Adamek)
PICK OF THE WEEK: A CINDERELLA CHRISTMAS
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is the attempt by writer Kris Lythgoe and director Bonnie Lythgoe to emulate the popular British "pantos": musical fairy tales incorporating topical humor, music and broad clowning. It includes a bit of everything: indoor snowstorms, audience participation, sing-alongs, TV veterans (Fred Willard as Cinderella's impoverished father, Baron Hardup), Broadway performers (Shoshana Bean as the Fairy Godmother), American Idol favorites (David Hernandez as the Prince's equerry), lively dancing, glittery costumes and acres of deftly painted scenery in Walt Disney-Victorian style. There's lots of magic to delight the kids -- who are invited to boo the ugly stepsisters -- and a live miniature horse to pull Cinderella's pumpkin coach. There are jokes, some raunchy, to amuse the grown-ups -- about the Kardashians and their ilk. The sex-crazed stepsisters, played in grotesque drag by Jeff Sumner and Mark Edgar Stephens, are named "Cowel" and "Seecrest." The songs range from current pop to "Over the Rainbow" and "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." Veronica Dunne is an appealing Cinderella, and Nico Evers-Swindell is dashing as the handsome, vain Prince Charming. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; call for schedule; thru Jan. 9. (818) 508-4200, elportaltheatre.com (Neal Weaver)