Thursday, April 18, 2024

‘There is no Disney princess who looks like me’: Rising above stereotypes in TACT’s ‘Cinderella’

“In this production, Cinderella has a bit more power and controls her own destiny. In terms of how the show is historically cast, I am not the traditional Cinderella. I’m not thin, I have gray hair, and there is no Disney princess who looks like me,” Georgie Simon said. (Photo by Leah Chappell)

WILMINGTON — A fairy tale of whimsy is coming to life on Thalian Hall’s main stage this weekend.

Directed by Samantha Chappell, “Cinderella” will open Friday, April 7, and run two weekends through Sunday, April 16.

“I was so excited to bring this classic story to life on stage,” said Chappell, who has also directed other youth shows in town, including Thalian Association’s “Charlotte’s Web.”

This is her first main stage show.

Chappell and 15 crew members, including musical director Denice Hopper and choreographer Tim Mills, have led the charge. The magic of the world comes to life with set designer Benedict Fancy, lighting designers Joshua Zieseniss and Alexis Turkington, and costumer Jennifer Iapaluccy. 

“We wanted to go for a storybook feel,” former Thalian Association artistic director Chandler Davis noted. 

Davis stepped down March 3 but is helping oversee productions through the end of the year.

READ MORE: After 70 productions, Thalian Association artistic director bows out

“We have lots of flying set pieces made to look two dimensional, as if we’re in the pages of a book,” she said. 

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is based on 1957’s TV appearance with Julie Andrews, recreated in 1965 with Lesley Ann Warren. Its rags-to-riches storyline follows the young girl, Cinderella, who mistreated by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters as a servant, yet ends up marrying a prince and living a life of fortune and happiness.

One of its remakes took place in 1997, starring Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother. TACT will base its production on the ’90s teleplay, which has been dubbed the “Enchanted” version.

“Wilmington is filled with such amazing talented performers that it truly took the creative team hours narrowing down the final casting,” Chappell said.

Altogether 35 cast members make up “Cinderella,” including Cindy, the Fairy Godmother, Prince Christopher, the stepmother and stepsisters, four white mice, and the ensemble. A group of local actors of all races and ethnicities fill the roles.

“Representation matters and the people on stage should reflect the people seeing our shows out in the real world,” Davis said, adding Thalian Association commits to diversity to make sure all productions it scales remain “for everyone.”

Taking on the lead roles are Logan Hayes as Prince Christopher and Georgie Simon as Cinderella. Both have been fans of the show since youth.

“The songs are iconic,” Simon told PCD. “Who wouldn’t want to sing such a dreamy score? It’s also pretty fun to get to be a princess for the first time.” 

The musical consists of more than a dozen songs.

Davis likes the “Enchanted” version as it is more character-driven and doesn’t solely put the onus on a prince savior.

In recent years, criticisms have been lodged at Disney for creating a “princess culture” wherein females think they need a prince charming to “save” them or base their self-worth on an objectified version of femininity. 

A 2016 study led by Sarah Coyne, an associate professor of family life at Brigham Young University, noted: “Girls who adhere strongly to female gender stereotypes tend to limit themselves in different ways,” according to USA Today.

Coyne was referring to female toddlers, who are exposed early in life and may not think they can excel in subjects like math or science.

Author Peggy Orenstein, of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture,” has written early exposure can create self-esteem issues for teenage girls.

“Most traditional fairy tales are problematic for a variety of reasons,” Davis said. “But here Cinderella realizes her destiny is in her own hands and she has the power to change her own life.”

This show highlights one’s self-worth beyond physical aesthetic, too. It’s showcased in a moment between the Fairy Godmother and Cinderella — Davis’ favorite scene, she said.

Perforrming as the Fairy Godmother is Bianca Shaw. (Photo by Leah Chappell)

“When Cinderella asks if her mother was pretty, the Fairy Godmother replies that it doesn’t matter because people cannot take credit or blame for the way they naturally look,” Davis said. “There is more to a person than their appearance. I think that’s a very important lesson for all young people.”

Port City Daily interviewed lead actors Simon and Hayes about the show and their characters. 

Port City Daily: For people familiar with the ‘Cinderella’ story, why should they still come see this production? 

Georgie Simon: While our production has many of the traditional magical elements, our ‘Cinderella’ is also unique. In this production, Cinderella has a bit more power and controls her own destiny. In terms of how the show is historically cast, I am not the traditional Cinderella. I’m not thin, I have gray hair, and there is no Disney princess who looks like me. 

I’m so proud of Thalian Association for making the choice to cast a non-traditional Cinderella. I think it’s important for audiences to see all different types of bodies on stage and this production does just that.

Logan Hayes: This show is absolutely nothing short of wonderful. It still includes your favorite magical sequences and adds some exciting elements. The technical elements of this show are some that are not easy to pull off, but everyone working on the show makes it flawless. What better way to spend time with your family than reliving a classic favorite? 

PCD: What has it been like getting into the mindset of your character? Have you taken any inspiration from somewhere or used specific techniques? 

GS: For me, it’s been taking different memories I’ve had in my life and applying them to parts of the story. When the stepfamily tears me down and humiliates me, I feel the embarrassment and shame of getting bullied in middle school. 

When I sing “In My Own Little Corner,” I’m back in my childhood bedroom playing dress up. This ‘Cinderella’ really just feels like an extension of me. 

LH: Getting into the mindset of the prince was a task that was not the easiest for me. Growing up, I never thought that I could be a prince. With the stigmas that the classic fairy tales bring for these characters, I never thought I would be able to check any of those boxes. 

However, this process has shown me that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it. I relate to the prince in many different ways than I thought imaginable. Taking real-life experiences and combining it with acting technique, this role is easily one of my favorites that I’ve played on stage. 

PCD: What has been the most challenging part of the show? Favorite part?

GS: Most challenging part is the stamina required for the show. I’m in all but two scenes, and those scenes are spent changing costumes, so it’s a marathon that requires a lot of energy and focus. 

My favorite part is working with my castmates. Whether it be my prince, my fabulous fairy godmother, my adorable animal friends, or my hilarious stepfamily, I just love all the interactions we have on and off stage. 

LH: The most challenging part for me is obtaining great vocal technique throughout the show. The prince has an expansive vocal range, one that requires great vocal technique and breath support. While this may be challenging, it is one of my favorite things to be challenged with. 

My favorite part of the show is sharing it with all of the incredible cast, crew, creative team and technicians. This group has worked so incredibly hard on this show for weeks and the dedication and time spent is evident through the final product. Thalian Association provides an atmosphere that is welcoming to everyone — no matter what. Sharing it with those who have the same mindset is one of my favorite things about this process. 

“Cinderella” opens April 7 at Thalian Hall and runs through April 16; tickets are $34 and can be purchased here. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. through next weekend.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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