‘Cinderella’ charms

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Junior Aja Robbins leaps into the air during her part in “Cinderella.” The play is being directed by Kristin Winchester and conducted by Tom Kyser. It’s open to the public from Thursday to Saturday and March 29-31.

By Judith Reynolds
Special to the Herald

When Cinderella and her prince realize they love each other, a blue-white spot isolates them at the top of a palace staircase. Below, revelers at the royal ball have stopped dancing. It’s a highly theatrical moment – one of many in the marvelous Durango High School production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”

Director Kristin Winchester and Conductor Tom Kyser have assembled a fine cast, crew and orchestra to mount this work. Last Friday, with very few shortcomings, the young ensemble staged a smooth and charming show with two more weekends of performances to come. Seats are available, so make your reservations now.

“Cinderella” debuted March, 31, 1957. It was the first American musical created for television and starred Julie Andrews. The production inspired a second iteration in 1965 starring Lesley Ann Warren. Stage and film adaptations came afterward. Now, it’s a favorite in the high school circuit. No wonder.

Based on the fairy tale of love’s triumph over class distinctions, “Cinderella” is a timeless story. To use modern psychobabble, the musical maintains the core theme of heartfelt yearning for an authentic relationship and heightens the ancient female pursuit of an available, well-positioned bachelor. The subtext encourages every woman at the ball to flirt with the prince. It’s a trope that also pushes the stepsisters over the top. Director Winchester makes the most of these embellishments.

From the opening village scene to the big ending celebration, the director has effectively employed a number of other contrasting devices. Winchester alters the pace, speeding up some scenes and letting others breathe. Most important, she uses dramatic freezes. Periodically, villagers or courtiers stand perfectly still while a principal character reveals some aspect of the inner life in spoken dialog or song.

Technical Director Walker White and his crew support this clear vision with a flexible set. Cinderella’s home and the king’s chamber flank a central stage that functions as village square, royal ballroom or a garden. One stark, abstract tree and a well suggest the village; a white staircase and Palladian windowed flats evoke a European court.

The lighting crew deserves special mention for seamlessly underscoring changing emotional temperatures with warm yellows, hot oranges, cool blues and that luminous mixed white spot at the end. Stage Manager Kaitlyn James deserves credit for smoothly running a technically complex production.

Choreographers Suzy DiSanto and Denise Hagemeister have woven colorful dance sequences into the show. A crisp escapade features servants in white chef hats and aprons preparing to serve a meal.

A corps de ballet, all in white tutus, introduces Cinderella’s magical coach. The inimitable JoAnn Nevils and her costume crew augment the coach with an illusion of white horses. Nevils also underscores the contrasting worlds of rags and riches with two on-stage costume changes that are swift and transformative. Peach and pink gowns set off white jacketed tuxedos at the ball to give a festive occasion a creamy, celebratory air.

Cinderella and Prince Charming (played realistically and sung cleanly by Brenna Christiansen and Evatt Salinger) are the still centers of attention. With clear, well-tuned voices, Christiansen and Salinger create a foil for other characters, especially Cinderella’s nemeses, the stepsisters (individually rendered by Rosie Schultz, Mandi Arcomono, and Jennie Fischer) and their diva mother (Hattie Dahlberg). A post-modern Fairy Godmother (sung with jaunty savoir faire by Crystal Marney) gets to wink at the audience as she lets Cinderella imagine her own future. Feminists who object to this fairy tale take note.

The cast is huge, too large to name everyone, but everyone seems to be at home as villager, ruler or courtier.

Credit Conductor Tom Kyser for assembling one of the best orchestras in years, augmented by two ringers; pianist Ivy Walker and DHS Band Director Katherine Reed on trumpet. That clear, precise sound creates the illusion of palace authority that’s perfectly in tune with the splendid set, spot-on lighting, handsome costumes and smart casting. Congratulations, Thespians 1096.

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at jreynolds@durangoherald.com.

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