Music Is The Magic of 'Cinderella'

There is no disputing the ageless charm of a fairy tale. Read it at bedtime or re-discover it in animation or live theater and the fascination is still there,. No matter how many times or in what form the glass slipper fits or the kiss of first love awakens, the tales are multi-generational, appealing to young and old alike

One of the favorites, “Cinderella,” is on stage through Aug. 21 at The Barn Theatre. Even though the message of true love seeing through several layers of grime to the princess beneath is still predominant, this version (there have been many) also focuses on the importance of being one’s own person and standing up for one’s self.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II first put music to the tale in 1957, with musical theater princess Julie Andrews in the title role fora black & white television production. It was revamped in 1965, also for the small screen, adding color and several more musical numbers as Leslie Ann Warren portrayed the long-suffering title character. The final TV version, in 1997, featured color-blind casting and inserted the Godmother-driven pitch for women’s rights as well as several more gently-used R&H songs.

However “Cinderella” is patched together musically, it never ceases to deliver the popular mantra that right will triumph and love conquers all, especially when the leading players sing well and look good in fancy costumes.

Overcoming my Disney-influenced feeling that Cinderella was a blonde, The Barn production features Annie Wessendarp in a black wig as the put-upon sister who definitely has the last laugh over her haughty Stepmother (Penelope Alex) and her shrieky, whiney, sausage-curled stepsisters misnamed Joy (Miriam Hendel-Moellman) and Grace (Natalie Sparbeck).

Definitely in Cinderella’s “Own Little Corner” is her upbeat fairy Godmother (Amy Harpenau) who dismisses Cindy’s misgivings as “Fol-De-Rol,” pointing out that , with the right attitude, nothing is “Impossible.” She transforms available animals and objects into the traditional coach-and-four with a wave of her wand — and she does it all while singing and whooshing around the stage on roller skates!

Of course it is the persistence of Prince Christopher (Jamey Grisham) and his search for the lady with the foot that fits the glass slipper left on the palace steps that finally puts Cinderella in her rightful place. Along the way, he is pushed towards marriage by his mother, Queen Constantina (Emily May Smith) and his father, King Maximillian (Roy Brown) (who happen to be really married) and by the royal steward, Lionel (Hans Friedrichs), who makes the most of his many laugh lines.

Audience members of all ages were delighted by the appearance of Cinderella’s animal helpers: four mice, a rabbit and a cat, who offered advice from the windows and the back of the couch.

The required settings are numerous and changes were handled by cast members, some more successfully than others. Early costuming for the ensemble as villagers was appropriately mis-matched and bright. When they became ball guests, however, it seemed to become “pick-a-period.” Dresses were floor length or short, full and flowing or narrow and clinging, with little thought to carrying through one time period. The costumer could have taken a cue from the young audience members who opted to attend the production in Cinderella gowns, many of whom met their favorite characters post-show for autographs.

Music director John Jay Espino and his band of four did well by the Rodgers score, both up-tempos and ballads, and many left the theater humming one of the lovely tunes.

“CINDERELLA” plays through Aug.21 in the theater on M-62 between Galesburg and Augusta, Mich. For information and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily or visit 

WW "Tenor" Is Fast-Paced Frantic Farce

Playwright Ken Ludwig is in the business of making people laugh. One example of how he frequently succeeds in a big way is “Lend Me A Tenor” which opened Wednesday evening at the Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Farce is the name of this particular comedic game and it is served up with style by the eight-member cast under the guidance of guest director Mickey Fisher. To say that it is fast-paced would be like calling the Empire State a tall building. It starts with a bang and accelerates for its two-hour running time. Actually, I’m not sure the actors could have survived a longer performance.

Anyone who has seen a farce knows that a number of very sturdy doors through which characters sneak stealthily or slam frantically (with increasing emphasis on the latter) are necessary. The amazing set, designed for the first WW “Tenor by the late Roy Hine, is a great example of how doors can become see-through and still be solid.

Set in Cleveland in 1934, the basic premise hinges on the appearance by famed tenor Tito Merelli (David Schlumpf), aka Il Stupendo, at the opening gala of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. Anxiously awaiting Tito’s arrival are Saunders (Ben Maters), company manager who fears impending disaster, and his assistant Max (Stephen Anthony), an aspiring tenor in love with Saunders’ daughter Maggie (Alex Finke), a big Morelli fan. Also waiting are Julia (Sophie Grimm), chairman of the Opera Guild; Diana (Jennifer Dow), a soprano with an eye on advancing her career; and a Bellhop (Nick Laughlin), a tenor fan in more ways than one. Accompanying Il Stupendo is his very jealous and very volatile wife, Maria (Lauren Roesner).

Mix this group of assorted individuals with a double dose of sleeping pills and a plan to cover the star’s “death” which includes a substitute tenor in the title role of the scheduled opera, “Othello,” and results in two Othellos frantically confronting — and attempting to avoid — several amorous women, and you have the ingredients for increasingly hilarious situations.

If timing is everything, the WW cast of “Lend Me A Tenor” has it all. Frantic entrances and exits, slamming doors and mistaken identities all are part and parcel of a farce, with success measured on how well these requirements are realized.

Schlumpf and Anthony carry the major burden here and, as they have all season, deliver their characters with style, flourish and believability. The scene in which the star gives vocal tips to the fledgling tenor is not only hilarious but beautifully sung. Schlumpf deserves extra applause for maintaining his “deadly calm” in the face of extremely vigorous efforts to “revive” him, while Anthony morphs beautifully from mild-mannered flunky to self-confident master of his fate.

All of the ladies do their own individual scenery-chewing. Finke deals well as the calmest of the quartet, hilariously discarding inhibitions for the ringing of bells. Grimm delivers a wicked caricature of every society-matron-as-overage-groupie. Dow slinks sensuously in and out of costumes on her own path to the Met. Roesner is a formidably possessive wife but would be even better if the Italian decibel level was a bit lower.

Maters offers an explosively slow burn and demonstrates the wildly swinging focus of a man whose eye is on the prize, even when that prize keeps shifting. Laughlin’s Bellboy is in fine voice in a role that has a different key than in earlier productions.

Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s costumes are, as usual, period perfect, and the matching costumes for “Othello” are works of art. Director Fisher has set the pace for this farce and his talented cast never lets it fall.

“LEND ME A TENOR” continues through Aug. 13 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618.

ECT "Joseph" Better Than Ever

There’s a cliché, old but undeniably true, about big oaks growing from little acorns. That definitely applies to the colorful, fast-paced musical — actually an opera — which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House. It grew from a 15-minute pop cantata in 1968, to a full-fledged Broadway production in 1982.

Elkhart Civic Theatre has produced “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor” twice before, in 1986 and 2002, and the current incarnation is as good if not, in some areas, better than its predecessors.

I have to assume that audiences in this viewing area are familiar with the story of Joseph and his brothers from the Book of Genesis. I therefore will say only that the scenes of Joseph’s sale into slavery, his attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife and subsequent imprisonment, his meteoric rise to become “Pharaoh’s number two” and his eventual reinstatment as favorite son and, brother are imaginatively reinvented by director John Shoup and choreographers Eleni Owens and Jackie (Miss Indiana 2011) Jerlecki.

Certainly the wonderfully vivid costumes designed by Jennifer Medich with Amanda Schmeltz add an eye-popping layer to the frequently drab desert costuming. This is especially true of those assigned to the Narrator (Amanda Rose) and the wives of Joseph’s brothers which rival costumes out of a Technicolor movie as, of course, does Joseph’s final “amazing colored coat.”

Rose, whose primary duty is to supply the narrative as the biblical story skips from Israel to Egypt, with a stop in Caanan, handles the extended vocals with clarity. Interestingly enough, when composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice wrote the piece, commissioned by Colby Court School in London, the Narrator was a man. Somewhere en route to the Great White Way, the gender was switched, possibly an attempt to somewhat balance the initial men/women ratio. Whatever the reason, Ms. Rose makes a case for a female in the role.

Joseph here is played by Case Nofziger, a tall, appropriately clean cut young man with a fine baritone voice. Displaying father Jacob’s gift of a colored coat, Joseph makes it easy to see why his shabbier brothers gloweringly share the deadly sin of jealousy. On the path from favorite son to prisoner to famine fighter and her, he delivers his several solos well .

In the role of the sleep-deprived Pharaoh, Brock Butler creates the requisite Elvis-as-Egyptian-ruler with show-stopping energy. Hips swinging appropriately, he demonstrates why everyone falls down before Rameses.

The 11 brothers do a solid job with solos and the big chorus numbers. They are aided sharply by the ladies of the ensemble and, frequently, by the Teen Chorus and Children’s Choir, members of which are a welcome addition to the production, singing and dancing and not just sitting and singing on the sidelines as in many productions where they are included in the cast to draw parents, siblings, relatives and friends into the audience. These youngsters know the songs and the dances and are as much a part of “Joseph” as the big brothers.

The Lloyd Webber score, which includes a variety of musical styles — country western, disco, rock ‘n roll, reggae, apache, ballad — is interpreted solidly by the five piece orchestra which, as the music never stops, could be said to be the hardest working component of this musical.

AND, as a bonus, the show runs about an hour and a half, including intermission, allowing plenty of time to greet the cast in the lobby and enjoy the ice cream, cake and punch being served after each performance to kick off Elkhart Civic Theatre’s season-long celebration of 50 years in the Bristol Opera House.

“JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on S.R. 120 in Bristol. For information and reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.