Reviews | Doctor Dolittle, Cinderella

Dr Dolittle
Dr Dolittle

Theatre Reviews

Doctor Dolittle

Maitland Musical Society, St John’s Pro-Cathedral Hall, Maitland, ends Sunday. 

James Theatre, Dungog,

October 7 and 8

THE lively song Talk to the Animals in the musical Doctor Dolittle is appropriate, given that the title character is a medico who has switched to treating animals and has learnt how to talk to them. And this production has colourful animals, among them a duck, a bulldog, a pig and a monkey who are very much alive, and mainly played engagingly by young performers.

The musical, adapted by writer and composer Leslie Bricusse from a popular film that had characters and incidents from Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle  stories, is staged brightly, with Glen Ironman’s doctor heading a large cast who make the animal carer’s activities engrossing.

The show’s first half has Dr Dolittle on trial after he was seen allegedly throwing a woman over a cliff. The doctor declares that the creature was a female seal he had treated and who wanted to return to her husband near the North Pole, with flashbacks showing how he became an animal doctor. And in the musical’s second act the doctor and some of his supporters search for a legendary sea creature.

The diverse characters are well handled by the large cast. Jane Martin, clad in a bright feather-like costume with a long tail-train, is the doctor’s 199-year-old multi-lingual parrot, Polynesia, who teaches him how to converse with animals. Ben Starling is a charmer as Dolittle’s down-to-earth Irish best friend, Matthew Mugg; young Ricky C shows amazing talent for his age as Tommy Stubbins, a 10-year-old boy who becomes the doctor’s helper; Craig Croxton is a stern General Bellowes, a landowner who is the magistrate at the doctor’s trial; and Angie Hutchison-Ussher, as Bellowes’ similarly short-tempered niece, Emma Fairfax, gradually shifts from telling Dolittle You’re Impossible, in the sharply worded song with that title, to being attracted to him.

The switches in settings add to the tale’s appeal, with a lively circus scene when Dolittle offers to sell a two-headed llama, the Pushmi-Pullyu, that a friend has sent him from Tibet, to the avaricious circus operators, leading to one of the musical’s bounciest songs, I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It. And other scenes have Dolittle flying through the sky with a balloon and the support of seagulls, and floating across the sea to reach a beach.

Director Jeanette Massey and the actors handle the many scene changes well, with the backing of musical director Ian Massey’s orchestra. Angie Hutchison-Ussher’s choreography adds to the bounce, and the colourful costumes and make-up add to the brightness.  

         *  *  *  *

Cinderella - Getting to Know

Young People’s Theatre, Hamilton. Ends October 28

THIS adaptation for young performers of composing and writing duo Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lively reworking of the classic fairy tale certainly tests the skills of the players. But the staging team headed by director Joanna Andrew have certainly brought out the talents of the under-18 players in the two alternating casts. When Cinderella heads to the royal ball, for example, she swiftly changes from dowdy garb to an elegant gown, and the mice become bright white horses who lead her coach. And the song-and-dance numbers do amusing things with situations, such as a large team of chefs telling the King and his bullying Queen in Your Majesties just how much food will be needed for the ballgoers.

This version of the well-known story has the prince reluctant to be the central figure at a ball to mark his 21st birthday, with that feeling underlined by the very bright opening song, The Prince is Giving a Ball, showing mothers and their daughters ecstatic in a crowded street when the royal herald announces the function. Cinderella’s unhappiness about her stepmother refusing to take her to the ball is movingly delivered in the number In My Own Little Corner when she sits alone in front of a fireplace after the other women have left her to clean the kitchen. Likewise, the swift development of a romantic attachment between the Prince and Cinderella is beautifully shown, through voices and movements, when the pair dance together in Ten Minutes Ago.

While Cinderella’s stepsisters are traditionally referred to as ugly, here they are seen as eccentric figures, with their elegant clothing having so much decoration and so many attachments that their agility is compromised (and one of the two casts has males doing a good job in bringing out the pair’s weirdness). The facial expressions of their well-dressed mother show at times that she sees a need to bring them into line, especially if they are to attract rich husbands. And when Cinderella pretends to imagine what the ball must have been like and sings about dancing with the Prince in It’s a Lovely Night, the stepsisters and stepmother respond with a wacky version of the song.

All the characters, including the Godmother, who is here a very down-to-earth person, hold the attention of child and adult watchers, with the scenes showing the Herald and the Prince trying to fit Cinderella’s lost slipper onto women’s feet raising laughter.