In a public High School in West Hartford, Connecticut — Conard High School to be exact — an incredibly professional production of Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella was performed.
I don’t use the word “professional” lightly. It is exactly the term for what Conard produced tonight. I have seen traveling productions of Broadway shows. They are above this production. I have also seen many a community theater production in my lifetime. This production is better than those, and far better in quality than any High School production I have ever seen.
The reason for this is the incredible concentration of artistic students at Conard in band, orchestra, and choir, plus art, drama and stagecraft. Tonight, the two leads, Mary Looney as Ella and Jake Yearsley as Prince Topher sang for two hours (with a fifteen minute intermission) and never reached beyond their range, never were too quiet or too loud, never missed a line. That would have been impressive in-and-of itself and I would have gone home having enjoyed the evening. But the next rung of players — Madame (Lila Goldstein), Charlotte (Janey Lorenzo) and Gabrielle (Delina Bartolomei) played their parts with comedic style and timing usually found in older adults. The boy who played Sebastian (Ray Plocharczyk) stayed in character the whole play — and did it well, with a unique flair to the character that I can’t quite put my finger on. Charlie Uthgennant as Lord Pinkleton rounded out the cast.
Again, I would have been impressed with just the singing, comedy, and acting. There was more. My daughters go to Conard, one is in choir, the other in band, so I am used to seeing the semi-annual concerts given by their groups. They are huge affairs as there are at least four groups that are part of the overall choir. The best of these is “B Sharp”, an a capella group, but each has its own style and strength. The ensemble in tonight’s musical was complimented by use of people from the school’s choirs. They were everywhere.
In the pit, the show’s orchestra (made up of band members, I believe) was incredible. The music, like the actors and singers, had a comedic timing to it. My particular favorite note was the violin part at the beginning of the second act where the person played what seemed like the same note for at least ten measures to build up tension for the entrance.
As if that weren’t enough, there was beautiful choreography as dozens of dancers swooped and swished around the stage. I don’t know if Conard has a dance program, but the talent here was obvious and the dancing w as flowing and graceful for the two hour length of the play.
My favorite part, though, was the set and special effects. I had reasonable expectations about this before I got there. High School shows usually have good sets and cool little effects, but this was spectacular. There was lattice work surrounding the stage that was intricate and almost looked Celtic, giving a sense of the woods somehow. Onstage, there were huge, intricate, and yet delicate trees — maybe a dozen of them. If you’ve seen the forest near the Batcave in the first Michael Keaton movie, you can get a sense of what these looked like — in a High School production! Sound-wise, the production featured horse-clomps and knights who reminded me of coconuts and Monty Python. There was a clock on a scrim that I assumed was wooden for most of the production. Turns out, it was done with lights and bells and so on. Technical director Jared Boulet, assistant stage manager Iris Madsen-Bibeau, the entire tech crew, and adult helpers like Patty Buccheri must have worked for months to get this so well done. Kudos to them.
Oh, then there were the dresses during the play. If you’re going to see the play, trust me, there is magic in the dresses on-stage which can only be experienced with awe and wonder. I still don’t know how it was done and I was there.
In addition to that, the play was politically subversive in its own way, calling out the cynicism of the elite or those who think they are. There were a few scenes where the nobles played a game called “ridicule” and insulted each other. This was stopped by Cinderella being intentionally kind the wicked step-mother in public, and it changed the tone of the story dramatically. In contrast to our times, the crowd there tried on kindness and openness instead of hate, changing the whole society into one of unity and equanimity.
In short, there was no part of this production which wasn’t up to professional standards. This is, of course, what happens when music and the arts are part of the curriculum in a public school. Students use the wide range of gifts they are given, and the rest of their intelligence and creativity soars. Even taking into account the immense local talent here in West Hartford, wouldn’t it be great of every school in the country gave this much attention to the arts? The joy, the fun, the skill-building and confidence that was on display in Cinderella should be seen in so many other places, where it would lead to “optimism” among the “citizenry” (people in the play, see what I did there?).
Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella has a matinee tomorrow, March 12th and plays all next weekend at Conard High School, West Hartford, CT. Go see it, or miss an incredible chance.
Resisting with peace, music, comedy, dancing, and special effects tonight,