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Original Article by The News and Advance
“They had a knack for writing classic music,” says E.C. Glass senior Emma Dahlin. “It combines the classic musical theatre — I’m going to go up there and smile and dance and [be] happy, happy, happy with [the] real world.
“They take a theme … and they expand on it, and emphasize it more than you would in real life. I think that’s what makes it so entertaining. It’s bigger than life. When you go see one of their shows or listen to their music, you get to step into their world.”
Dahlin is starring as the titular character in E.C. Glass’ production of “Cinderella,” which opens Friday.
“The story is one that is timeless,” says director Tom Harris. “[It] is a story that can take you away. It can just let you escape the world for a while, and believe in the optimistic view that the future is bright, and what you want and what you dream of can happen.”
“Cinderella,” like “South Pacific” and several of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s productions, has an extensive history.
The musical was originally written as a vehicle for a then-British newcomer — Julie Andrews — after Rodgers saw her perform as Liza in the Broadway production of “My Fair Lady.” The CBS broadcast, aired in 1957, brought in more than 107 million viewers and earned Andrews an Emmy nomination.
Since then, it has played on stages across the U.S. and even in a tour across Asia. In 2013, “Cinderella” finally made it to Broadway, and closed in January of this year, after 769 performances.
Harris says every production of “Cinderella” incorporates different elements. For Glass’ staging, he stuck with a more old-school approach. He kept the original 1957 score and chose to avoid breaking the fourth wall.
“Every year for the past probably six, we’ve built out over the orchestra pit, or had people in the audience. All kinds of stuff,” says Harris. “But for this one, we’re definitely keeping the fourth wall, in true Rodgers and Hammerstein fashion.”
Harris also decided to bring more dance to the performance than other versions have had. He has done this before with other productions — including last season’s staging of “Pippin” — but “Cinderella” includes another complicated style: ballet.
“Rodgers and Hammerstein music is a lot like a story-ballet itself, and [I] really tried to incorporate it,” Harris says. “So when you watch the ball … you’ll see there’s a lot of what would have been done in a story-ballet.”
Only about 15 percent of the cast of more than 40 had previous ballet training, but Harris says they have all risen to the challenge.
The most traditional element of the play appears in the form of Cinderella herself, who brings to life an intrinsic optimism that draws audiences into the story.
“I guess probably the one word I would use to describe Cinderella is a dreamer,” says Dahlin. “She’s created this tactic of shutting the world out and just living in her world that she can create. To quote ‘In My Own Little Corner,’ she ‘can be whoever she wants to be’ whenever she wants.”
Senior Rob Dendy, who plays the Prince, adds that audiences relate to Cinderella’s optimism.
“I think dreaming is the biggest piece — anything’s possible, and your background and your situation … doesn’t have to be where you draw your happiness from,” he says. “It’s your attitude and how you react to the world around you.”
Even with a more classical approach, audiences can still expect some true stage magic. Cinderella’s pumpkin will expand and transform into an actual carriage right on stage.
“We had a math major from Virginia Tech who graduated from here — over winter break, [he] came in and designed this thing …it’s engineering and fabrication magic,” Harris says.
Those involved in both “Cinderella” and “South Pacific” spoke of the staying power of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals, thanks to their deep, underlying messages, beautiful love stories and catchy melodies.
“I’m in the middle of working with 40-some-odd students … who have no idea what Rodgers and Hammerstein style music was before we started this,” says Harris. “And you would think they were listening to their favorite rock or pop artist. They’re singing and they’re singing with passion.”