Liberty shows Rodgers and Hammerstein’s twist on classic fairytale ‘Cinderella’

Walt Disney once said, “Believe in your dreams, no matter how impossible they seem.” This idea of believing in the seemingly impossible is one of the many powerful themes surrounding Liberty University’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s contemporary take on “Cinderella.”

The classic fairytale surrounds the life of a kind-hearted woman named Cinderella, who, despite being mistreated and forced to work as a servant to her stepfamily, still pursues goodwill towards others. As the story unfolds, Cinderella must hold onto hope as she embarks on a journey to find her place in the world and maybe even true love along the way.  

Bright peacock green and royal purple lights showered the stage in a fantastical glow as the first set of curtains opened and revealed a live orchestra and colorful woodland backdrop. The sweet harmony of the orchestra’s violins, the melodic plucking of a harp and the joyous tunes from brass instruments all provided a jovial ambience to the production’s musical numbers and scenes. There was a combination of laughter and intrigue from the audience as there were both comedic moments and unexpected surprises throughout the show. 

Nicolette Pilalis played the lead role of Cinderella and is currently finishing a BFA in musical theatre. Although Cinderella was not the character she originally expected to play, Pilalis explained that receiving a callback for the lead role became a shockingly wonderful turn of events. 

“I honestly had no trouble connecting with this character,” Pilalis said. “She is very imaginative and the first song she sings is ‘In My Own Little Corner,’ and it’s just about basically the life that she escapes to because her life at home is less than ideal …  And I connected so much with that part of her because sometimes I feel like I just live in my head and there is a constant story playing out in my head.”

Pilalis enjoyed taking on the role of Cinderella because it has provided opportunities for telling a new story in a creative and musical fashion. 

“As an actor, I think a lot of us can relate to that. We just love to make up stories and tell them. I definitely had no trouble connecting to that part of the character at all,” Pilalis said. 

As for preparations for the production, it has been an extensive process spanning for about two months, including numerous practices for choreography and the finalization of bringing all the set details together.

One of the most dazzling aspects of the production is the series of transformation dresses that Cinderella gets to wear. Pilalis explained that there were certain challenges to overcome with these kinds of dresses because everything with the costumes had to function properly to ensure that the dress alternated from being a simple frock to a glittery gown in the allotted amount of time for each scene. 

According to Pilalis, the costume designer for the theater department, Lynn Forth, along with help from the assistant costume designer, Salem Watson, worked to make all the female costumes “from scratch.” 

There were several Elizabethan style ball gowns in various hues of bright blues, purples, pinks, golds, whites and more. Puffed sleeves, satin skirts and flowery lace designs were each present on the many ball gowns that the actresses wore during the production. 

“With a live orchestra, it is definitely easier than with tracks, because there is a little bit more room for you to know pacing and (try) to figure that out,” Pilalis said while discussing the various challenges that can come with dancing to live music versus from a prerecorded track. 

Pilalis’ favorite song is “Do I Love You Because I Think You’re Beautiful” due to it being a defining moment for Cinderella and the Prince’s budding romance. 

The production involves several topics and themes that emphasize a broader approach to the life of Cinderella as opposed to the classic Disney tale. 

“It’s interesting because this isn’t necessarily Disney’s Cinderella, it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein. It’s an interesting balance because there is an extra level to the story,” Pilalis said, when describing how this version promotes social justice and class equality, whereas the well-known Cinderella cartoon version is much different. 

Pilalis describes the storyline as being a “balance” for Cinderella to discover her passions, find true love and build up the people around her through kindness and forgiveness. 

“The theme(s) of kindness and forgiveness (are) the most important theme(s) in the play,” Pilalis said.

The resounding message of “doing the impossible” was the key not only for Cinderella, but also for everyone in the story to achieve their greater purpose and dreams. 

“Cinderella” will be showing in the Tower Theater from Oct. 20 through Nov. 5. For ticket information, visit this website.

Davis is a feature reporter for the Liberty Champion

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