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'Cinderella' finds contemporary home at Briar Woods

Megan Fraedrich, a student at West Springfield High School reviews Briar Woods High School’s “Cinderella” as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

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Carolina Alvarez, Emily Heyer, Katie Bell and Lindsey Neimo from Briar Woods High School. (Photo by Rosemary Bell)

If singing doves, fairy godmothers, handsome princes and love at first sight are all, well, a little old fashioned, you might be surprised by Briar Woods High School’s rendition of “Cinderella.” Starring a fairy godmother with attitude, a Prince Charming with a brain and a Cinderella who is more than just a pretty face, this updated version of the classic tale adds a dash of spice to the sugary storyline.

Originally created for a 1957 television broadcast starring Julie Andrews, composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” is still a popular high school theater production today. Over the years, the story has been interpreted in many different ways, including the 1997 TV movie version starring Brandy Norwood, who played the first African American Cinderella, and Whitney Houston. Taking a cue from some of the different productions that broke the mold of the classic story, Briar Woods delivered a contemporary and unique version.

Playing the most famous fairytale princess is a tall order, but with a soaring voice and poise, Katie Bell proved more than capable. Beyond sparkling as the belle of the ball, Bell’s Cinderella was also refreshingly grounded. She and Brett Stockman (Prince Christopher) played their iconic roles as regular people with unique personalities and their own quirks. Stockman gave an endearingly unpretentious portrayal of the prince, and his warm tenor voice sounded best when harmonizing with Bell’s soprano.

Matt Quist’s good-natured sense of humor shone in the role of the King, whose charming chemistry with the Queen (Madeline Moore) complemented the central romance. Quist’s booming voice and well-timed one-liners made him a memorable character, while Moore’s Queen was not above tossing off a crowd-pleasing zinger or two. Emily Heyer’s played the domineering stepmother with show-stealing gusto, and also brought comedy to the production, as did Cinderella’s clownish stepsisters played by Carolina Alvarez and Lindsey Neimo. The stepfamily played off each other’s characters effectively, particularly during Alvarez and Neimo’s exchange in the duet “Stepsister’s Lament”—one of the show’s comedic highlights. Other ensemble members were engaging and enthusiastic, particularly Beverly Diaz and Brianna Lay as white mice and Jesse Bhamrah as the town butcher.

Asma Nagui’s costumes, particularly the stepsisters’ colorful, gaudy ball gowns, set the mood, while sharp choreography by Bell, Natalie Descantis and Neimo added flair to group numbers. The stage crew (Lea Schild, Jenn Manes, Amelia Kirby and Liz Zwicker), dressed as ninjas, sneakily performed scene changes quickly and quietly. During one transition, Melissa Hyatt skillfully led a ballet number.

Video montages by Tyler Kirby offered a creative solution to the production filled with displays of magic.

But not everything worked. Some of the unpolished singing solos marred a few numbers, even though, overall, the cast’s voices were cohesive and blended well. There were also some discrepancies in the principal character’s commitment, energy and projection, which made some of the scenes seem unbalanced and occasionally jarring.

Beginning with a chance encounter and ending with a spectacular wedding, Briar Woods’ lush production of “Cinderella” proved that with an open mind and some moxie, even an old story could be told in a new and exciting way.

By Megan Fraedrich, Posted by Mario Iván Oña  |  January 26, 2010; 12:48 PM ET
 | Tags: Cappies 2010  
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