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Review: Playhouse's 'Cinderella' great example of community theater

The Duluth Playhouse version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" is a story about star-studded love, about the power of royalty, about poverty to riches, about magic and happy endings.

The Duluth Playhouse version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" is a story about star-studded love, about the power of royalty, about poverty to riches, about magic and happy endings.
For a person who has been known to fall asleep during idyllic (soppy?) musicals, who prefers theater the likes of "Trojan Women," "Mother Courage" and perhaps "Talents' Folly" and who has long cringed at the idea of the crown, how could this musical be satisfactory?
Because it's community theater -- nary a professional on stage.
Instead, there's Meagan Lee Gritzmacher, my church choir director's lightfooted, charming daughter as the upper house maid; Doug Happy, member of an anti-racism group I'm part of, pulling off his character role so well I didn't recognize him 'til actors m et audience at play's end; and third-grader John Cutshall, my good friend Carla's next door neighbor, playing a very effective orphan child.
Some of the cast were so good, I think they could go professional.
The godmother, Peggy Conley, with the hit "Impossible," had great timbre and verve. First-time-ever actor (and oldest in the cast) Dave Griffin played a naturally comedic, warm and unaffected King. He sang great, too. Shari Gagne, who works at the Area Learning Center, played Elmira of the Street -- you would never guess it was her first time onstage.
And those stepsisters! Joy, the myopic one, played by Margie Moeller, a Bette Midler look-alike and mother of five, used her moral weight to order poor Cinderella around, while her red-haired sister, Portia, played by Abby DeSanto, a junior at East High, butchered Shakespeare, grimacing, and making the perfect foil for sis. This pair deserves kudos.
Rodgers and Hammerstein injected street children into the old, familiar story. Local director Colleen Daugherty transported the story to the 1800s era of Dickens. Her Duluth crew of street waifs were full-voiced and effective throughout.
I was fortunate to see the musical twice, once on opening night and again at the next matinee.
Not being an aficionado of musicals (was it me who dozed off during Lyric Opera of Chicago's "Turandot"?), I would never have known how quality can change performance to performance.
On opening night, a beautiful and beautifully-voiced natural of a Cinderella, Carolyn Dick, sang clearly and richly on "In My Own Little Corner." Her voice was just as sweet during the matinee, but not as full -- half the cast members were fighting colds, an understudy's dream.
Handsome Prince Christopher, Jaime Tintor, a UMD education student, was flat on opening night. For the next day's matinee, his stage presence had greatly improved, along with his singing voice. He obviously began to relax in the role. It turns out this is Jaime's onstage singing debut.
Another Playhouse first timer, Lisa Gudowski, fell fully into her role as stepmother by the second day's performance, as did Joy Wiitala (Margaret the Cook).
Whereas some lines were hurried first night, the edge was off next day, when almost every performer gave their lines their due. The revolving stage worked well, with a well-invented onstage costume change as Cinderella readied for the ball.
A visual artist and friend who accompanied me opening night was annoyed by a very visible exit sign, which drew undue attention to the orchestra section. Having a different eye, he also suggested more lavish costumes. Both of us felt the dancing could have been more rhythmic and more energetic.
This Duluth Playhouse version of "Cinderella" will run Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 6-9 at 7:30 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 9-10, at 2 p.m.
The Playhouse is found at the Depot, 506 W. Michigan, where you'll surely see friends among the extensive cast and production crew. Even a musical-theater curmudgeon like me was touched when, after the play, high school sophomore and backstage crew member Kali Gritzmacher slid onto Cinderella's short stool, and softly sang her own version ... "in my own little corner, in my own little chair."
Griffin calls community theater "a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch a group of talented people come together while they relive childhood dreams."
Kris Osbakken is a freelance writer living in Duluth.

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