Unpopular opinion: I wouldn’t say I like Sondheim. I know I’m supposed to, and I can — objectively — recognize the level of talent and sophistication of his scores and lyrics. But I don’t love this show. And I don’t have to.
When CCM’s Sophomores and Juniors announced a student-led, socially-distanced outdoor production, I immediately clicked “Going” on the FaceBook invite. After all, it’s been months since I’ve seen any live theatre. And there’s something magical about watching the stars of tomorrow at CCM shine now, getting a glimpse of Broadway’s future.
Directed by Sammy Schechter and produced by Jake Waford (who also appeared in the cast as “Cinderella’s Prince” and “The Baker” respectively — and were terrific) took a minimal (probably zero) budget and managed to produce a professional-quality show despite the global pandemic. The professional lighting rig and sound system helped, but this fine cast's talent would have elevated any production to the stratosphere even without it.
(I had to go to work mid-show, so I was only able to see Act One, which disallowed me the pleasure of hearing the great Tracy Conner embody the voice of the Giant in Act Two. But I saw enough to assess this production properly.)
I especially enjoyed the work of Britta Cowan (“The Baker’s Wife”), with her command of the stage at all times and Anna Chase Lanier’s spooky “Witch,” who, despite wearing a mask (like the entire cast) transformed magically from wretched old woman to her “real self.” Eli Owens (“Jack”) has the acting chops of someone twice his age, and Chesney Mitchell delighted the crowd with her take on “Little Red.” Kai Horvit embodied the “Wolf” with ferocity, and both Sammy Schechter and Leo Carmody (“Rapunzel’s Prince”) projected Princely-arrogance in likable ways.
Sam Cohen’s “Mysterious Man” was exasperatingly funny, and the trio of Cinderella’s nemeses (Sasha Spitz, Sarah Nelson, and Sarah Pansing) took advantage of each moment. Cassie Maurer’s beautiful soprano voice resonated through Tower Park as “Rapunzel.” Tori Heinlein took several purposeful, physical tumbles as Cinderella — and I was rooting for her.
Rose Messenger (“Jacks’ Mother”) continues to impress playing older characters — she’s one of those actresses who will continue to find work as she matures into the roles she’s already masterfully playing. Christian Feliciano showed versatility as “Granny” and “the Steward.” Finally, Brandon Schumacker kept the entire show together as the “Narrator.”
CCM’s new musical theatre department chair, Eric Sangata, supervised this independent study. Whatever he did to help them worked. The costumes (assumingly from the cast’s personal closets) were simple yet quietly set the show's tone as the muted fall colors were perfect for this autumn production. I enjoyed the choreography and subtle movement in, off, and around the stage.
Julie Spangler, who’s exquisite piano sounded symphonic (not even missing a beat when her lamp fell in the middle of a big number.) The sound system and lights were more than I’d imagined for this minimalist musical — and were a welcome addition.
It was chilly out there in Ft. Thomas, but I’m so glad I braved the weather to see these future stars do what they were born to do — entertain, yes, but also to inspire. Their passion gives me hope for the future of theatre.
Their spirit gives me hope for the future of our country.