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Director embraces fairy tale elements in ‘Cinderella’

Amy Burd, left, plays the Queen and Terry Shears is the King in Youngstown Playhouse's production of "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella." (Submitted photo)

Youngstown Playhouse is bringing a fairy tale to the stage for the holidays with “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”

The musical, which opens Friday for a two-weekend run, isn’t based on the 1950 Disney animated version. Composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (whose credits include “South Pacific,” “The Sound of Music” and “Oklahoma!”) used the fairy tale as inspiration for a production that initially was performed live on television in 1957 starring Julie Andrews.

TV versions starring Leslie Ann Warren in 1965 and Brandy and Whitney Houston in 1997 followed, and the musical made its Broadway debut in 2013.

Director Emma Wason grew up with the Disney version, but she also had a copy of the 1965 production.

“When the Brandy and Whitney Houston version came on TV, I was hooked for life,” she said.

The musical is based on a fairy tale about a young woman (played by Elizabeth Huff) raised by her wicked stepmother (Connie Cassidy) who, with the help of her fairy godmother (Liz Conrad), gets to attend a royal ball and win the affection of a handsome prince (Wayne Bonner).

Centuries-old folk tales and 21st century sensibilities often clash, but Wason said her approach to the material is to lean into the fairy tale elements while focusing on the inner strength of the title character.

“As a mother of two daughters, I know they’re not going to walk out feeling they need a man to save them,” Wason said.

Because of the popularity of the musical, Wason said she had a large turnout for auditions, which made the casting choices difficult.

“Chemistry made a lot of my decisions for me, not just between Cinderella and the prince, but Cinderella and the fairy godmother, the stepsisters, the king and queen,” she said. “It was all part of forming a strong ensemble.”

It’s also a large ensemble. The rest of the cast includes Kayla Fenstermaker, Sierra Ellis, Terry Shears, Amy Burd, Craig Conrad, Arcale Peace, Kathryn Stanton, Darcie Luikhart, Aubree Neuhaus, Raquel Allison, Allyson Wenger, Savanna Wade, Jenny Long, Cassie Freudenrich, Sabrina Bliss, Keri Jennings, Madison Knepper, Sammie Gurd, Romerio Dawkins, Ryan Bedi, Layla Torres, Maggie Freudenrich, Lilli Kachelries, Maddie Wason, Julianna Wason, Gigi Infante, Livi Infante, Emarie Voorhies, Sloane Voorhies, Phoebe Voorhies and Maeve McGuire.

Wason oftentimes has done double duty as music director on the productions she’s director or worked as music director for other directors. For “Cinderella” Tyler Stouffer is the musical director.

“He’s been amazing,” she said. “I’ll never go back to doing it myself.”

She also praised the rest of the creative team, which includes set designer Tom Hitmar, lighting designer Leslie Brown and technical director Johnny Pecano.

“They’re all working together to create a spectacle even better than I could have dreamed.”

If you go …

WHAT: “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 10

WHERE: Youngstown Playhouse, 600 Playhouse Lane, Youngstown

HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $17 to $27 and are available online at experienceyourarts.org and by calling 330-788-8739.

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