Cinderella might seem an odd story to tell at Christmas time, but the version the Raleigh Little Theatre has been telling for 30 years has been a holiday favorite for Triangle families for decades.
The story, which takes plays in the days leading up to Christmas, ends with the expected ball where Cinderella and her prince meet on Christmas Eve. The sets and many of the costumes all are dressed in Christmas finery, including the evil stepmother's ball gown, a Christmas tree-like ensemble complete with twinkling lights. And the show always ends with the cast singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" as snow falls on stage.
I first took my older daughter and mother to the production a couple of years ago for the first time. My daughter, never really a fan of princess stories, went grudgingly. She left the show, after getting the autographs of pretty much the entire cast, a convert, eager to return.
This show is absolutely hilarious - from the ever confident fairy godmother (played by Sarah Winters this year) to the comedic fairy helpers (played by Ruth Berry and Mark Taranto) to the unlovable stepsisters (played for years by Timothy Cherry and M. Dennis Poole) to the bumbling king (played by Rowell Gormon). The story is as much about some of these characters, who get second billing in the Disney telling of the story, as it is about Cinderella herself. Cinderella at 30: The fairy godmother and stepmother share what's new
It's also an interactive show. The audience is encouraged to hiss whenever the stepmother comes on stage. We all wave to Cinderella as she takes her carriage to the ball. And parents get tickets months ahead of schedule to get aisle seats so their little girls have a chance to try on Cinderella's slipper when the prince comes off stage and looks for his love. Lights and animation help tell the tale.
At the end, the entire cast gathers in the lobby to pose for picture and sign autographs.
This year's version is a poignant one for the folks who call the Raleigh Little Theatre home. The theater's entire season is dedicated to its artistic leader, Haskell Fitz-Simons, who died in May after being diagnosed with lymphoma. He'd been with Raleigh Little Theatre for 30 years and was Cinderella's artistic director.
Ths year's version is directed by Nancy and Rod Rich. The couple has long been involved in Raleigh Little Theatre. In fact, Rod Rich played King Darling in the 1980s.
Charles Phaneuf, the theater's executive director, tells me that they stayed true to Fitz-Simons' vision for the story. But, as happens every year, there are some new highlights, including costumes, animation and a bit more dialogue between Cinderella and her prince. The Riches wanted the audience to see the two fall in love, Phaneuf said.
"It's both new and old," Phaneuf said. "It's the same Cinderella you love, but it's new, refreshed."
We caught Sunday's matinee and my girls, 8 and 4, were mesmerized. As I do every year, I highly recommend this Raleigh Christmas classic.
After the show, I caught up with the fairy godmother (Winter) and the stepmother (Samantha Glover). Check my fun, quick video interview with them.
Cinderella runs on Thursdays through Sundays through Dec. 21. Tickets are $30. This week, on Thursday, Dec. 12, $10 of every ticket will go to provide warm, winter clothing for Salvation Army families in need as part of WRAL's Coats for the Children program. Click here for more information about Cinderella and to get tickets.