Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Cinderella" Times Three

The book-in-progress has a name! Drum roll:

Thirty-one Years Directing Community and High School Musicals

Thanks to my copy editor, Ashleigh Evans, for the great suggestion. When you read the book you’ll see how well the title fits. Here’s a hint in a condensation of the chapter on three productions of Cinderella. There’s much more in this chapter, but this is a taste of the “flavor” of the book – memories that are exciting, funny, and poignant. Many names are being named! Stay tuned.

Cinderella (1, 2, 3)
(1984, 1993, 1999)

     The idea of fairies as tiny creatures with gauzy wings is a recent one. In the ancient myths and legends, and until modern times, fairies were powerful, immortal beings of human size. “Fairy tales” such as Cinderella were stories in which these remarkable creatures and their magical powers played an important part.
     When Cinderella says to her Godmother: “I wish you believed that once in a while something marvelous and magical could happen,” and the Godmother replies, “I don’t say that I don’t believe that once in a while something marvelous and magical can’t happen,” they speak for all of us. The child in everyone can’t help but believe that sometimes, wishes really do come true, and “marvelous and magical” things can happen.
     Whatever it is that brings us all together for these performances has its own magic. You, the audience, are a vital part of this: without you, these performances would be little more than rehearsals. You are part of what makes each performance unique, and so you are part of that wonderful, fleeting experience, live theater.
     So enjoy the show – and help us bring the fairy tale magically to life!
Susan Jordan
Pocono Lively Arts (Stroudsburg High School)
December, 1984

     The note is from the first of three productions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella presented by Pocono Lively Arts, each time at Stroudsburg High School. PLA, as we referred to our organization, was established in 1977 as a presenting organization for a series of musical and dance events. In 1979 we presented our first musical theater production as an addition to the regular series. The musical was quite successful and prompted us to continue to offer the community the opportunity to both participate in and attend a “family friendly” holiday show.
     This first Cinderella was the first time we ventured into the maze of leasing a show from a major rental house, and having to come up with money to pay for the royalties and rental fees for a show. (These must be paid in advance, at least by an amateur organization.) Until that time we had performed musicals we procured from a music publishing house, or a show that was in the public domain. But our shows continued to meet with success, and more and more people came for auditions. And more people volunteered their services for the myriad requirements of a stage musical, from playing an instrument in the pit orchestra to helping with costumes and makeup to building the set to ushering for a performance.
     The Sunday before show weekend the local newspaper (Pocono Record) featured us in the special entertainment section, “Passport,” including the cover and a number of photos on a two-page spread. The Friday the show opened, they gave us another large article with photos; and finally, a review of the production.  Our PLA productions were major community events. The population of Monroe County was less than 75,000 at that time; it is nearly twice that today.
     One of my favorite pictures in that Friday article shows Cinderella with her contingent of mice, four adorable children dressed in furry white body suits including hoods with mouse ears, their whiskers clearly visible. I added the mice; Rodgers and Hammerstein didn’t include them in the script for their made-for-television musical. I also added horses to pull the carriage ─ and a Children’s Chorus to follow the Herald around as he announced the forthcoming ball for the Prince, and later when he was trying to find the owner of the lost slipper.
     The audiences loved, loved, loved the mice! For years afterwards when PLA’s Cinderella came up in conversation, someone was sure to comment how much they had loved the mice. Disney got it right. When our Cinderella sang “In My Own Little Corner,” the mice came out of hiding to commiserate with her. Exclamations from the audience were audible. Our mice were really cute.
     One of the reasons we began performing holiday shows was to give children an opportunity to be on stage. I remembered how much I had loved performing in The Emperor’s New Clothes as an eighth grade student in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and wanted “our” kids to have that kind of experience. We included as many children in our productions as we possibly could. It always broke my heart that it was impossible to include every child who auditioned. The kids in the shows had the time of their lives. Many youngsters did the show every year beginning at the age of eight, often continuing through their high school years.
     The biggest challenge with the show was Cinderella’s transformation from household drudge to beautiful princess … in ninety seconds. Lighting is a great help. I love stage fog. A lot of fog works wonders. The mice and rats danced offstage, and the characters playing the necessary accoutrements  ─ horses, footman, coachman ─ danced on. The coach was challenging but great fun for our set designers, and beautiful to behold. An army backstage took off Cindy’s rags and replaced them with a beautiful gown, swept up her hair, added jewels and shoes and … presto! There she was, pulled from the fog and brought downstage by her Godmother. The audience applauded this transformation at every performance. The imaginative and exciting music that accompanied this magical feat was also a great help. Stage magic is great fun to make – when it works. I always held my breath, but it worked unfailingly for us.
Cinderella is a happy show. The wedding is a lump-in-your-throat, if not a tears-in-your-eyes moment for everyone.

    I earlier mentioned the four little mice whose picture was in the newspaper in costume in our first Cinderella production in 1984. Three of them – Andrew Kowalyshyn, Chris Bond, and Marjorie Lawler ─ were still around for Cinderella #2 in 1993, and Chris and Marjorie performed in the show. Andrew had become a very fine sound technician, even as a high school student, and was running sound for the show – more about Andrew later in the book. See Song of Norway for a moment I will never forget.
     The fourth mouse, Donna Schweinberg, had grown into a lovely young woman, and was also to be in the production. Tragically, Donna was killed in an automobile accident shortly after the cast was announced. Everyone involved with the show, and all of the members of PLA, chose to dedicate the production to Donna’s memory, and these comments were included in my director’s note for that production:

     When we presented Cinderella in 1984, there was a sweet little mouse on stage named Donna Schweinberg. This year, Donna’s senior year at Stroudsburg High School, we had hoped she would once again join us. As sometimes happens, fate decreed otherwise and Donna’s young life was sadly ended just before we began rehearsals. The cast and production staff of Cinderella, and the Board of Directors of Pocono Lively Arts would like to dedicate this production to Donna and her family, in memory of that sweet mouse who had grown to become an exceptional young woman, much loved by her family and friends.
     Cinderella is a happy story, the kind we love to experience again and again. We all feel that Donna and other members of the 1984 cast who have gone on (Mary Jane Snyder, Hilda Vanderslice) would like being remembered in this special way, at this special, magical time of the year.

My memories of our three productions of Cinderella will always remain special and magical.

 Cinderella 1993
Judy Lawler, Kelly Foley, Paula Rivera
Photo by Rose Karlson