COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Impossible things are happening everyday,” Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother emphatically proclaims, and I could see it in the efforts for Cottonwood Heights Arts Council third theatrical production. Attending the performance in Brighton High School’s auditorium, I entered Cinderella’s magical world with its well orchestrated community, the talented actors, and a little stage magic. This version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is closely based on the 1997 television production and has some of the duo’s most memorable songs, such as the imaginative, “In My Own Little Corner,” the Prince’s tale of love at first sight in “Ten Minutes Ago,” and the hilarious ranting in the “Stepsisters’ Lament.”
Cottonwood Heights did an excellent job of creating a true community production. The ensemble under the direction of Becky Henriksen helped create the play’s environment with beautiful purpose. In both the opening sequences and the ballroom scene Henriksen along with the help of choreographer Ashlee Wright helped every cast member have their moment in the limelight, while preventing crowding on the stage and wandering souls. Wright’s command of the ballroom scene was apparent as the dancers performed well executed routines over several songs and a significant amount of dialogue. Upwards of 40 or more populated the stage in such scenes, but focus was appropriately centered and the ensemble acted purposefully in their lives behind the main story.
Cinderella’s story is a wonderful treat to experience when portrayed by the talented April Joy Tritchler. Vocal demands from the daydream ponderings of “In My Own Little Corner” to the soaring notes of “Do I Love You Because Your Beautiful” were clear and powerful. Tritchler interacted naturally with her stepfamily in both her quiet frustration to their demands throughout Act 1 and her joyful reminisce of “A Lovely Night” after the ball. She is humble upon meeting her prince and later enjoyably candid as they find they are not so different after all.
It took a little longer for me to love Prince Christopher. Rohit Raghavan has a strong clear voice and attractive presence of a prince, evident as he waltzes beautifully through his ballad “Ten Minutes Ago.” However, through the first act I felt the choices to be hopelessly in love or helpless against his parents’ demands came off a little flat. I warmed up to him again after he fell in love with Cinderella. His sudden simultaneous venting with Cinderella about the lack of control in their lives loosened up his character and Raghavan exhibited a broader range of emotions and motives the rest of the evening.
Other standout performances included Cinderella’s stepfamily and her Fairy Godmother. Cinderella’s stepsisters Joy and Grace (Amanda Jewell and Katie Larson) were annoying and inherently rude in the loving way only sisters can be. From Joy’s infectious laugh/snort to Grace’s soaring complaints in “The Stepsisters’ Lament,” both the physically awkward and the emotionally shallow personas were well portrayed and very entertaining. The Stepmother’s (Beverly Astin) consistently high-pitched and grating voice was effective and made her interactions feel particularly obnoxious as she endlessly ordered Cinderella around or tried to marry off her daughters. These strong characterizations from the family provided an excellent contrast to Cinderella’s grounded and natural nature. Meanwhile, Kerynne Vance was a delightfully goofy Fairy Godmother who “prefers to stand out” with silly dance moves and practical advice given through “fiddle-dee dee” rhymes. She exhumed energy throughout her song “Impossible” and had that magic feeling to her face and actions making you wish she was your own fairy godmother.
Cinderella revolves around a little magic. After the beautiful imaginations of the actors, it falls to the technical designers to delve you even deeper. About half of this was fantastic, and some still needed a little more practice with their magic wands. The set design by Brad Lake was an excellent multipurpose bi-level unit stage and appropriately adorned with Cinderella’s corner and the palace gardens on the sides of the proscenium. A few simple changes to pillars, signs, or other set dressings and the stage shifted magically from town square, to Cinderella’s manor, or the palace with clock ticking down to midnight. Some of the larger painted panels were flat in texture and washed out by the often broad standard lighting, but some well placed intricate designs helped create these essential shifts in location effortlessly.
Another magical surprise was the costume design by Mandy Llyons. The costumes were well above the quality often found in community productions. The beautiful dresses and suits made the ballroom dancers come alive, each expectant maiden had a unique and elegantly made gown, and the stepfamily looked properly ridiculous. I particularly loved Grace’s enormous hat of oversized pink bows. But most stunning was the transformation of Cinderella’s torn dress instantly into a beautiful and elegant ball gown. Oohs and aahs were received all around for that transformation.
Sound wise there were some unfortunate microphone issues from bad connections, and some scratching noises on Prince and Stepmother for large portions of their dialogue. On the other hand, I pleasantly enjoyed the live orchestra conducted by Rod Lewis. They sounded wonderful and complemented the overall production. Overall they had great balance with the singers and helped make scenes like the Prince’s search through the kingdom peppy and effective.
Cinderella learns from her Fairy Godmother that if one is willing to act purposefully on her dreams and wishes, then she can do anything. Cottonwood Heights has worked very hard on the dream to produce this show and are making very high quality results early on in their history. Come enjoy the fulfillment of their wish, and look forward to new wishes in years to come.