Sometimes, audiences reach for fairy tales as a way to escape and enjoy a recess from stress. At other times, these familiar stories can offer encouraging ways to seek out what’s going right in the world and amplify it.
When Four County Players’ new production of “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” opens Friday evening in the community theater’s Mainstage space, audience members can savor classic songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III, including “In My Own Little Corner,” “Ten Minutes Ago” and “Impossible/It’s Possible” — plus some new additions. Four County’s new production is the area premiere of the 2013 Broadway version, so thanks to an updated libretto by Douglas Carter Beane and some new-to-audiences Rodgers and Hammerstein songs that have been added to the score, there’s something new and fresh or classic and comforting for everyone.
“What makes it timely is its message: The way we show up for one another is what really makes the world go around,” director and choreographer Perry Medlin said. “When you’re your best self, you can help others be their best selves.”
In this telling of Cinderella’s story, the characters are more fully formed, and Cinderella is able to save the day for the handsome prince, just as he does for her, Medlin said.
“The beautiful thing about this script is at this moment, Cinderella needed a slipper and a gown to thrive,” Medlin said. “In turn, Cinderella almost becomes a fairy godmother for the prince to help him be a leader for his people.” Girding the romance are friendship and mutual respect, which he said are revealed “when you get these flashes of who they are, and not just who the world sees.”
Eliza Banaszak plays Ella and Thaddeus Lane portrays Prince Topher. Joining them in the cast are Leslie Clare Wood, Kristen Dillehunt, Anna Grey Hogan, Ella Caplin, Soren Corbett, Kirk Martini, Andy Davis, Ian Amos, Samantha Cadieux, Lydia Cuffman, Haley Griffith, Brian Johns, Susanna Johns, Hope King, Kyle LaTorre, Kaiden Rojas, Hannah Vidaver, Elena Witt, Sydney Witucki and Melina Zimet.
Medlin is teaming up with vocal director Amelia Camacho and music director Laura Collier. Also on the production staff are Debbie Owen as production stage manager, Edward Warwick White as producer and properties coordinator, Mary Catherine Hughes as assistant director, Kerry Moran as scenic designer, Bruce Young as costume designer, Kim Faulkinbury as lighting designer, David Hutchins as sound designer and engineer, Mary Speed as scenic change artist, Eric Rodas as lead carpenter, Katie Hutchins as assistant stage manager, Karman Boisset as hair and makeup designer, Gary Warwick White as production manager and Devynn Thomas as assistant production manager.
“I’m surrounded by a really great team of designers,” Medlin said. “Every time, it’s a leap of faith. They’re providing the canvas, and I get to use the actors as paints.”
There have been many different film, television and musical theater adaptations of Cinderella’s story over the years, dating back at least to an 1899 silent version by special effects master Georges Méliès, so each person may have his or her idea of the ideal heroine. Was your favorite portrayal by Julie Andrews, Lesley Ann Warren, Brandy Norwood, Lily James or Camila Cabello — or maybe Disney’s animated blonde? You may notice a little of each.
One theme that’s likely to appeal to audience members of all ages, and Cinderella fans of all kinds, is that wish fulfillment isn’t only for the few.
“Everybody has their wishes fulfilled,” Medlin said. “We get to see what the prince’s wish is, and the stepmother’s. What’s really fascinating is to see how every single character gets their wish, whether they realize it or not.”
Just don’t wait too long to save your seat. “Tickets are going to go really quickly,” Medlin said. “You can’t go to the ball without an invitation.”
And speaking of invitations, another is likely to go quickly — the one for the Post-Performance Tea Party after Sunday’s matinee. Seating is limited, and tickets are $20, so if you’re looking for a last-minute Mother’s Day experience, don’t dawdle.
The show is appropriate for the whole family, but keep in mind that, as a result of the production’s length, the show is not recommended for children younger than 5. To familiarize yourself with the latest COVID-19 protocols, go to http://fourcp.org/covid-19-and-four-county-players/.
Tickets are $20, $18 for seniors and students and $16 for ages 12 and younger. All Friday night tickets are $10. For tickets and details, go to fourcp.org or dial (540) 832-5355.