By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Whether you were raised with the original fairy tale or Disney’s “Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” version, you have never seen a Cinderella quite like the one currently offered by Hillsboro’s STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy. The 19-person cast, stage manager, and lighting designer are all young people ranging from pre-pre-teens to seventeen-year-olds. While few of them are bound for show biz careers, they are all learning a lot about theater, diction, teamwork, organization, and public presentation by participating in the STAGES program.
The adaptation by Jim Eiler and Jeanne Bargy is a musical, with the songs fully integrated into the show. While none of the music is terribly memorable, the musical numbers offer lots of opportunities for the entire cast to participate in the singing and dancing. Because this version is loosely based on English pantomime style theater, the cast members also get to interact playfully with the audience – a fun touch that really helps to bring younger audience members into the spirit of the evening.
The show opens with a stage full of fairy tale characters, including many of the famous fairies of folk lore (who knew there were so many?) – and leads up to the introduction of the most wonderful fairy of all, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (Lindsay DeLapp). The Fairy Godmother sends two of the cutest Helpers in history (Lily Frerichs and Danielle Martinek) out to locate the most worthy and needy person in the kingdom. Frerichs and Martinek are, by turns, wry, spritely, woeful, and enthusiastic – but always articulate and charming. The three girls all bring a wealth of stage experience to their roles.
The Helpers’ search eventually leads them to the home of the Stepmother (Heather Sutherland), her two daughters, Henrietta (Hallie Bartell) and Gertrude (Emily Niebergall), and of course the much-oppressed step-daughter, Ella. The wicked trio takes great delight in tormenting poor Ella, forcing her to sleep in the kitchen among the cinders (hence, the name “Cinderella”) and, in one of the show’s liveliest musical numbers, shrieking for her to fulfill their every whim.
The role of Cinderella is filled with poignant optimism by Sarah LaTray. She is perfect for the role physically, winsome and innocently pretty, and she ably handles the transition from the scullery to the palace (and back). Her singing voice is effective when she wistfully sings “what’s to become of me” as she patiently awaits deliverance from her woeful plight.
David VanDyke (Prince Charming) initially comes off as an egotistical poser (ala the princes of Into the Woods), but he soon reveals his own sad predicament – lonely, looking for true love but pressured to marry for state purposes. He, too, muses “what’s to become of me,” until he finally meets Cinderella. VanDyke earns our sympathy as he exposes his emotions, and he is very effective in the role. Comic relief is amply provided by Charming’s father, King Darling III (Caleb Kinder). Running gags based on Darling’s nearsightedness are played to full effect by this deft comedian.
The job of providing musical accompaniment is filled by two pianists, Beverly Bean and Anne Poulos. In addition to supporting the music and dance numbers, the pianists also provide sound effects (in particular, the haunting tubular bells to accent moments of magic).
Many thanks to Director Donald Cleland, Musical Director/Choreographer Linda Anderson, and the other adults who gave of their time to make this show a reality. Special kudos to coach designer Dan McFarling for the clever pumpkin-to-coach transition!
HART Theatre is to be commended for sharing their wonderful facility with this special group.
Cinderella runs through Sunday, May 19th at the HART Theatre,
185 S. E. Washington Street, Hillsboro.