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As much as I enjoy my work reviewing professional performing arts productions of all kinds, there is something refreshing about now and then getting back to basics and attending a fine school production full of eager youngsters trying their wings in the theatre. This weekend’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA at the John Cooper School is a perfect example. An affluent private school, with an affluent student population, John Cooper spares no expense in mounting comparatively lavish musicals. From the printed show programs and posters to the school’s exceptional theater complex, it is first class all the way at John Cooper.
This CINDERELLA brings lots of colorful fun to the school’s state-of-the-art stage. And behind the scenes there is full complement of top-notch facilities that include scenic design shops, rehearsal areas, costume collection storage, make-up rooms, and of course a full orchestra pit where Music Director/Conductor, Rae Moses, presided over the 15-member orchestra that even included seven student musicians.
The large and talented cast includes Emily Moses as the wacky Stepmother, Maddie Bergeron and Payton Russell as her equally wacky daughters, earnest and handsome Jack Whitney as Prince Christopher, T.J. Gill as Lionel, the very pompous Steward to the Prince, Kylie Melodick as Queen Constantina and Salvador Recio as King Maximillian. Mallory Bechtel brings a pleasant singing voice to the role of the Fairy Godmother. A twenty-seven member ensemble cast brought great vocal support and splendid dancing (choreographer, Elizabeth DeMonico) to many of the R&H tunes that included “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” the, “Gavotte,” “Loneliness of Evening,” “Cinderella Waltz,” and the finale of “There’s Music in You,” led by Miss Bechtel.
Shining above all of this is a perfectly cast Cinderella in Natalie Holley. While many of these eager young performers have a way to go in learning to sing perfectly on key while avoiding over-acting and the rushing of lines that become difficult to hear, Miss Holley offers what appears to be a highly trained voice that clearly anchors this student production. A senior at John Cooper, she is President of the Tri Music Honor Society, and was last year’s winner in Houston of the prestigious Tommy Tune Award as Best Supporting Actress. In this production she glows in numbers like, “In My Own Little Corner,” and “A Lovely Night.” She joins Miss Bechtel for the optimistic, “It’s Possible,” and then pairs nicely with the Prince for “The Sweetest Sounds,” and, “Ten Minutes Ago.”
Gay period costumes for the villagers and lavish costumes for the Royal Ball were beautifully designed by Laura Targett. Scenic Designer, Chasen Whitson, provides a pleasant fairy tale world from village to ballroom. Sound and audio designs may need a bit of tweaking in conjunction with orchestral volumes to be sure that all dialogue is easily heard by the audience. There was one unexpected moment that I found amusing in the context of The John Cooper School’s prosperous population. There is a scene where Cinderella and her sisters are debating about where money comes from. When it was then declared that, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, —It’s inherited!” the audience roared with laughter.