Review: Wow Factor: A Cinderella Story (Canadian Opera Company)

Canadian Opera Company presents a kid-friendly take on Cinderella, on stage in Toronto

Not everyone knows about the excellent programming the Canadian Opera Company produces for children, youth and families. This year’s iteration of Opera for Young Audiences‘ annual kid’s opera, Wow Factor, was a modernized version of Rossini’s masterpiece La Cenerentola. Based on Cinderella, one of the most beloved children’s stories of all time, the opera is a great candidate for a kid-friendly reimagining. Wow Factor is in English and set in a middle school.

The plot is reminiscent of Against the Grain Theatre’s Joel Ivany’s other retelling, A Little Too Cozy, in that both pieces revolve around a reality TV show. In Wow Factor, three popular, mean-girls compete for TV singing competition glory and the attentions of the popular young host Li’l Charm (Charles Sy). The shy-girl that they pick on secretly has a stunning singing voice and a kind heart and becomes a sleeper hit at the competition, winning the host’s affection into the bargain.

The program provides activities for children an hour before curtain. This year’s activities included bracelet making, instruments to experiment with and costume-themed colouring. During the performance, the kids have the option to sit cross-legged on mats right up at the front. There is also a 10 minute Q&A at the end where the kids can ask questions about the stage effects, costumes, and what it’s like to be an opera singer.

Opera for Young Audiences productions are cast with members of the COC Ensemble who seem to really enjoy playing to this squirmy, high-energy audience. In this production, they really get to spread their wings with body language and gesture to convey the impression that they are snotty tweens masking confusing insecurities with obnoxious bravado.

Mezzo-soprano Simone Genga was delightful in the role of shy-girl Cindy. Her voice was round, warm and inviting, reminiscent of the scent of lilacs. Vocally she is matched to Rossini like the proverbial glass slipper. She and Charles Sly had charming, family-friendly on-stage chemistry and delicious blend during their duets.

I was very impressed by Lauren Eberwein in the previous Young Audiences production I saw her in. In this production, I was very inspired by her vocal and dramatic development. Her show-stopping number for the talent competition utilizes the florid passages that are quintessential Rossini to bridge operatic and R&B techniques by modifying these to mimic the virtuosic acrobatics of artists such as Mariah Carey. I found it funny because these bravura passages are both loved and hated by opera and popular music lovers alike. Ms. Eberwein navigated this technical intricacy deftly, communicating the intent very clearly without ever fully straying from classical technique.

I saw this show with my six-year-old son who is a very seasoned theatre, musical theatre, and opera-goer. I must admit that in spite of my efforts to instill a love for the art form, opera is his least favourite of these performing arts. He seems to appreciate simpler music, less high pitched vocals, and more dancing. Each to his own of course, I enjoyed myself very much.

With a run time of 50 minutes, even my very wriggly, stimulation-addicted kid made it to the end without doing anything egregious or embarrassing by my standards. The performance, activities and Q&A are a great way to expose littles to opera magic. Put this event in your calendar and get on a list to stay in the loop about Opera for Young Audiences if you have kids and teens in your life.

Details:

  • Wow Factor played until December 2, 2018 at Imperial Oil Opera Theatre (227 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario)
  • Show times were 11 AM on December 1 & 2 and 2 PM on December 1 & 2 , with additional performances available for school groups.
  • Tickets were free for children under the age of 12, adult tickets were $40.
  • Tickets for public performances were available online, school group tickets were available at 416-306-2356 or groupsales@coc.ca.

Image provided by Company

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