On Saturday, February 6, 2016, I got in my car and drove to MSJ in order to watch Mount de Sales Academy do a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s, Cinderella. This was my first time ever attending an event that either MSJ’s or MDSA’s Drama department had put on. I really didn’t know what to expect.
When I walked into the Marion Burke Knott Fine Arts Center, I was surprised to see a large group of people in the lobby buying tickets, water, soda, snacks, candy grams and more. There were poster boards that had pictures of all the cast members with their names. After I bought my ticket I proceeded to go and find a seat. Again, I was surprised when I walked into the Auditorium and the place was packed! It looked like there were no seats in the whole building. I eventually found a seat just as an announcement came over the intercom asking everyone to move as far to the center as possible so more people could have seats.
Finally the lights start flashing, indicating that the play was about to start and everyone should go to their seats. The auditorium fell silent as the music began, and the opening number started. All of a sudden, the auditorium doors opened, and a ton of girls in dresses came down the isle singing. I was mesmerized! All throughout the play I found myself being lost in the fantasy of the Cinderella story, just like watching it on VHS for the first time (yes, I know, who even talks about VHS anymore?). I’m sorry to spoil the ending to maybe like, five people, but in the end the slipper fit and they lived happily ever after.
The role of Ella was played by a MDSA senior named Marley Niesz. This was her second time playing the role of Ella in the production, and in her bio she said she “would like to thank [her] friends and family who have always supported her in her inability to play sports.” All I can say about her performance is that she was absolute perfection! Every melody, note, dance, and line delivery was worthy of five stars. Her vocal range was perfect for the part and was very broadway-esque with vibrato and much more. My favorite number she did was one titled “In My Own Little Corner” in the first act.
The perfect complement to her performance came in the form of Prince Topher played by MSJ junior, Connor Hurley. Again the audience was graced with the voice that you could definitely hear on Broadway in the future. This was Connor’s seventh appearance on the MDSA/MSJ stage. He did an excellent job of portraying a daring, charming, and still talented Prince of the kingdom. He and Marley performed a number that was an absolute dream called “Ten Minutes Ago.”
The optimistic and motivated role of Jean-Michele was played by MSJ junior, Michael Stromberg. Although it wasn’t the main role, he didn’t let that stop him from gaining the audience’s full attention when on the stage. Micheal used his huge, booming voice throughout all of the numbers to stand out. He did an awesome job at portraying a man who wants change and actively pursues it.
His opposing role was that of Madame played by MDSA senior, Stephanie Larson. I went to middle school with Stephanie, and she was always know as the biggest thespian there. She has appeared in many MSJ/MDSA productions in the past and didn’t disappoint in playing this role. Stephanie oozed opulence as she graced the stage from one side to another. It was a true accomplishment to be able to play this role with such grace yet be a complete witch at the same time. Playing a stern woman, as well as a conniving woman with her own agenda, seemed to come with ease for Stephanie.
My second favorite role came from Grace Burns who played the role of Marie. This role, I can imagine, had to be pretty hard to play. This is because she had to portray two completely differently personas. One is an elderly and slightly senile homeless-looking woman dubbed “Crazy Marie.” About half way through Act I, Crazy Marie turns out to be Ella’s Fairy Godmother. Grace was able to be witty and deliver great jokes as Crazy Marie, and then minutes later belt out high notes and melodies that only she could execute. Unfortunately two hiccups happened at the show I attended. In the middle of her first number as the Fairy Godmother, the top of her wand came flying off and shattered on the stage. She never reacted, almost to the point where I questioned if it was supposed to happen. Later on in the play, she also got stuck in the fireplace, but she once again acted like a true professional and the show went on. She was able to embody the spirit of a watchful Fairy Godmother to the highest degree, and it couldn’t have been more spectacular.
And of course every fairy tail has to have an evil character, and this came from MSJ junior, Will Hartman, who played Sebastian. Again, it was a conniving character that was executed perfectly. He was the full embodiment of a lucrative and corrupt man who had an agenda for inequality and the protection/growth of his power. He is followed closely by the hip of a not-so-evil character, Lord Pinkleton, played by MSJ senior, Mark Haver. This was Mark’s first-ever production put on by MDSA. Another flawless performance could be summed up into 3 words: Holy High-Notes! My favorite part of his perforce as Lord Pinkleton was when he was lifted into the air on stage and just belted out one that was so impressive (maybe even matching Grace earlier in the musical)!
The final two roles that have to be discussed are those of the two ugly step sisters. I don’t know yet how I feel about the characterization of the sisters. In the beginning, they were truly mean to Ella, which was what I thought would continue throughout, but it didn’t. By the end, they were almost acting as if Ella was their sister. The first ugly stepsister, Gabrielle, was played by MDSA senior, Meghan Hanlon. The part where the characterization changed for me was when Gabrielle confided in Ella about her secret love for Jean-Michel like a normal sister would. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I was just confused while watching the show.
The final role still uncovered just happens to be my favorite of the whole show. The role was Charlotte, the second of the ugly step sisters not destined for Prince Topher, played by MDSA senior, Bridget Edmondson. She had me laughing every time she was onstage. I think a very comparable role would be that of Amy in the Pitch Perfect series, or anything Melissa McCarthy has done recently. She would drag herself off the stage, make self-deprecating jokes, and so much more, all of which was just absolutely hilarious. She alone made me want to watch the musical a second time. When I left that auditorium, I was still laughing and quoting things she said with friends days after the performance! One thing mentioned in her bio was that she was happy to be back on stage with hair after she played the role of Uncle Fester in a production of The Adams Family. She was just the epitome of knowing how to deliver a line and embody a character that the audience will love.
Don’t get me wrong; it was a great musical, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any mistakes. Props got broken, lines were forgotten, microphones would come in and out for particular people, etc. The dance scenes I think were a little underwhelming, and at some points during the show, I feel like it was a little elementary. These things though can be overlooked because it was a great show in the end (and after talking to some of the cast, apparently the show I attended was the worst performance overall).
Going to my first school produced musical was just an overall great experience, 4.5 out of 5 stars! I’m just counting down the days now until the MSJ production of The Wiz coming later this spring!
All photos courtesy of, and copyright of, Reagan Hyde MDSA ’17.