Oh, Dahhhling. There's a strange duck from across the pond at UCLA. It's Zsa Zsa Gabor in a British panto version of "Cinderella." And even though the cheeky chaps who've produced this oddity have made some whopping misjudgments, it's not such a bad outing for Mum, Dad and the little tykes. If they're thick-skinned, that is.
The panto is a traditional English holiday diversion that's a cross between commedia dell'arte and a music hall variety show where gender roles are often reversed. Here, writer-director Nigel Miles-Thomas has taken the perennial panto story of Cinderella (demur Ella Knight) and her Prince Charming (the less than charming Kate Gayson) and spiced it up with a cast of characters that includes a pair of juggling, wisecracking guys in drag (Mark Saban, Mark Heap) as Cinders' nasty stepsisters Thelma and Louise.
There's a feeble attempt to Americanize the humor, but it's more distracting than amusing and doesn't seem to wash with the kiddies anyway. Songs by Harry Warren, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others are also sprinkled throughout, without credit.
As the Fairy Godmother, Gabor, who is the only miked actor onstage, manages to flub nearly every line except the jokes that refer winkingly to her own run-ins with the law. One such quip alludes to the 1990 incident in which the actress slapped a Beverly Hills police officer, and a couple are nods to Gabor's protracted civil court battle with actress Elke Sommer, who sued her for defamation and just last week won a $3.3-million judgment against Gabor.
The 10 other principal players are Brits, most of whom acquit themselves respectably, although the six-person chorus looks tired and sounds anemic. The colorfully whimsical scenery and costumes are by Alison Cartledge, who has made this a handsome production, and musical direction is by Steven Duckham.
Comedic misfires notwithstanding, it's not that "Cinderella" is such a lame show but that its producers have made such severe (and costly) miscalculations that you could almost accuse them of a design for failure to rival "Springtime for Hitler." Sold as the bring-the-kiddies fare that it is and staged in a more suitable house--say, the Mayfair or some other less modern, cozy theater--"Cinderella" might make a useful, and certainly unusual, addition to Los Angeles' holiday offerings.
\o7 * "Cinderella," Freud Playhouse, UCLA, Westwood. Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends Jan. 9. $15-$25. (310) 825-2101. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.\f7