Thursday, June 18, 2009


Creative ‘CINDERELLA’ at Mercury Summer Stock

Mercury Summer Stock, which is now staging Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘CINDERELLA,’ lists itself as “a professionally based, not-for-profit, and community-supported theatre. Located in Parma, it basically serves the west side communities by offering low-cost plays, which are usually family friendly.

Recently, MSS added a “My First Musical Program” to its program. It is intended to make the theatrical experience open to children who, because of financial and other issues, would not normally be exposed to live stagings. As evidenced by the young lady, who, at a special Wednesday early evening performance, spent most of the second act of ‘CINDERELLA’ hanging onto the edge of the stage and who immediately followed Cinderella and Prince Charming down the aisle at the close of the show as they exited to the lobby to spend time interacting with the audience, the concept worked!

‘CINDERELLA’ is the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written for television. It was originally broadcast on March 31, 1957 as a vehicle for Julie Andrews, who played the title role. It is based upon the fairy tale of the same name, which concerns a young woman forced into a life of servitude by her cruel stepmother. With the help of her Fairy Godmother, Cinderella is transformed into a Princess and finds her Prince. The stage musical contains all the elements that make for a dream-like fantasy, including a prince, a pumpkin which becomes a carriage, a glass slipper, and a fairy god mother. And, of course, there is the must have “happily ever after” ending.

The melodic score includes: “The Sweetest Sounds,” “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible; It’s Possible,” “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” and “A Lovely Night.”

The Mercury Summer Stock production, under the direction of Pierre-Jacques Brault, with musical direction by Eddie Carney (who accompanies the singers on the piano), is quite creative. Brault has a nice flair for the bizarre and uses the piano, which is set center stage, as the stage coach, uses puppets for the mice who become the coach’s horses, adds ingenious costumes, and incorporates extensive physical and verbal farce.

I saw the show during a special staging aimed at children. This affected the performance. For example, Rob Gibb, who plays the cross-dressing wicked step mother, and Brian Marshall, who portrayed the Herald (court jester) were quite tame during the performance. This, according to Brault, was intentional as he was afraid the children wouldn’t get the extended farce. In reality, I thought the duo should have over done what they normally did in performance, as the kids giggled with delight when something was over-exaggerated, such as the actions of the wicked step sisters.

As is my pattern, since this show was child friendly, I took the “Kid Reviewers,” my grandsons Alex (13) and Noah (12), to see the production. They liked the farce, thought that the singing voices were generally okay, but that almost all of the performers needed to project more. (We were in the third row and often couldn’t hear the words.) “Maybe,” said Alex, an accomplished pianist and member of the Cleveland Orchestra’s Children’s Chorus, “the pianist should have played more softly, but it’s really the responsibility of the cast to sing loud enough.” Both boys thought that in the movie version, the special effects helped make the production more visually appealing, but realized that the special effects couldn’t be done on stage. They both would have liked the stepmother and the Herald to “play around more.” Noah, in particular, thought the choreography was excellent. They liked the step sisters “a lot.” Alex gave the show a 7 on a scale of 10, Noah a 6, with the recommendation that the story was mainly aimed at those 8 and under, and was of interest “mainly to girls.” From my perspective the boys were right on.

Nicholas Varricchio has the right physical attributes to be Prince Charming. He has a nice singing voice, but was often difficult to hear. Emily Grodzik was generally charming as Cinderella, but had vocal projection problems. Kelvette Beacham and Jennifer Myor were delightful as the bickering stepsisters. Their plastic wigs in the ballroom scene, were a hoot and their ‘Stepsister’s Lament” duo was fun.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Mercury’s ‘CINDERELLA’ is a very pleasant evening of summer theatre, well tailored to children. Be sure to read both the adult and children’s versions of the program. The latter is delightful. Who knew that Brault was an ‘ALICE IN WONDERLAND’ expert, Prince Charming wants to be a Dalmatian when he grows up, and the Herald wants to grow up to be a French fry.