Visits to Conroe, Texas continue to be full of surprises for this part-time New Yorker to discover. New shops, galleries, and festivals continue to pop up around the central square and courthouse, giving the city the pleasant flavor of the largely bygone era of small town America.
It was surprising as well to find a beautiful mural dedicated to New York decorating the outside wall of Joe’s Italian Restaurant on North Frazier. But it is no surprise to experience fine theatre in Conroe at both the newer Owen Theatre and the historic Crighton Theatre which dates back to its opening in the fall of 1935.
It is there that the Stage Right Players are currently presenting a pleasant production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s charming musical, CINDERELLA, directed with wit by Debra Schultz. I don’t imagine any of my readers are unfamiliar with the tale of sweet Cinderella (beautiful Kathleen Baker) who is tormented and abused by her ornery stepmother (Leona Hoegsberg), and her two mean and foolish stepsisters (Avea Zamora plays Grace and Alexandra Casey plays Joy). As always, the real star of this show is the enchanting music from the legendary composers.
This production has an added bonus since both Miss Baker and her Prince (handsome Louis Crespo Jr.) bring exceptional voices to the performance. They combine their talents for wonderful melodies like, “The Sweetest Sounds,” “Ten Minutes Ago,” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”
The latter song is beautifully reprised in Act Two as a lovely quartet featuring the Prince, Cinderella, and the poignant pairing of Queen Constantina (Marilyn Lewellen) and King Maximillian (John Thees). In that number and another titled, “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” the duo of Lewellen and Thees produces special warmth that seems reminiscent of “I Remember It Well,” from Gigi.
As for stepmother and stepsisters, their delightfully annoying antics provide plenty of silly fun, and they sport equally silly costumes from the many-talented Ms. Schultz. Regal costumes for the royals and guests at the ball added to the glow. (The Queen’s glittering red sequined jacket looked as if it was stolen from Judy Garland on an opening night at The Palace.) The scenes play well on the flexible set design from Shultz and Jon King. Their scenic concept allows the action to move freely from the town, to the royal chambers, to the towering staircase of the ballroom, to a starlit garden, and on to the home of Cinderella’s stepfamily. In an unusual arrangement, Musical Director, Caleb Ackerman, had rehearsed and prerecorded a nineteen-piece orchestra to produce the music used in this production. A large cast of fine supporting players includes a cat, some adorable mice, and Lionel, royal steward to the Prince. Lionel leads a rousing, “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” with great help from Cinderella, her stepfamily, and the villagers in the kingdom.
Returning to the wonderful music, enough cannot be said about the elegant delicacy of Baker’s performance. Her coloratura soprano has the kind of high-spinning vibrato that one might associate with such stars as Jane Powell and Kathryn Grayson. She charms us with, “In My Own Little Corner,” and joins her stepfamily for the joyful delights of, “When You’re Driving Through the Moonlight,” and “A Lovely Night.” Meanwhile, Crystal Stampes portrays the unusually saucy and mischievous Fairy Godmother with good humor and a twinkle in her eye. While singing may not be her strong suit, she sang the cheerful, “Impossible,” quite well, and showed a good sense of coy comic timing throughout.
Finally, with all due respect to the blazing talent of the late Whitney Houston, the introduction here (in the wedding scene finale) of Miss Houston’s song, “There Is Music in You,” from the 1997 TV version of Cinderella, seems a clear departure from the overall character of the exquisite R&H score. In an effort to offer more contemporary appeal to youngsters (with humor and material updated from the original), director Schultz had opted to use what is known as the “Enchanted” version of the work published by R&H Theatricals. Thus, Ms. Schultz had no choice but to include the somewhat disappointing song lest this production violate the rights agreement with the publishers. But by that time we audience members already had plenty to smile about. In closing, here is a word of warning to parents of young children. It is rumored that you may be charged with child abuse if you don’t take the kids to see this one!
CINDERELLA continues through July 29th at the Crighton Theatre in Conroe, Texas. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday’s at 2 pm. For tickets and information call 936-441-7469 or visit the websites at www.crightontheatre.org and www.stage-right.org .