'Fairy Godmother' comes home to spin her magic
A professional singer and dancer from Jeannette who has spent the past 17 years performing at sea on cruise ships is back on dry land — and back in her community — to perform in an original production by Stage Right at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin.
Amy Jo Slater will portray the Fairy Godmother June 16 to 18 in a new version of “Cinderella,” created by Stage Right Artistic Director Tony Marino, who also directs the production.
After graduating from Jeannette High School in 1993 and St. Vincent College in 1997 with a degree in vocal performance, Slater performed for Idlewild Park, Stage Right and Latshaw Productions, taught dance and choreographed high school musicals in the area before landing her dream job.
“I was performing at Cedar Point which was, at the time, the place to perform as a young performer,” she recalls. “I was editing my video demo reel and getting ready to submit to all the big companies. I stayed on for the Halloween season and my roommate's contract had ended and she had gotten a job as a singer/dancer for Renaissance Cruises.”
When her roommate got to rehearsal, they were having trouble casting a soprano, so she called Slater and told her to submit her materials right away.
“Next thing I knew, I had the job,” she says. “It felt so strange for a little performer from Jeannette to be floating around on this luxury liner singing and dancing and spending my time off snorkeling in Bora Bora — not a bad gig at all.”
Since then she has worked for three different cruise lines, where she says she has had more “pinch me” moments than she can count, including starring as Lola in Barry Manilow's “Copacabana the Musical” for Holland America.
“It has been an incredible experience,” she says. “I have seen so much of the world and was paid to do it, not to mention the incredible productions I was a part of.”
One of her most memorable trips included an overnight docking in Tel Aviv, Israel.
“We spent the day touring Jerusalem and then spent the night in the city enjoying the cuisine and the night life,” she says. “It is one of my favorite cities in the world. I was taken aback by how incredibly friendly people were in that city.”
Besides having to be away from family for up to nine months at a time, being a cruise ship entertainer has its share of challenges — including unpredictable weather.
“Sometimes the ocean doesn't cooperate with your show times,” Slater says. “On just this last contract, we were doing a trans-Atlantic crossing from Miami to the Azores and it was incredibly rough. The waves were up to 20 feet and we still had a show to do. If it gets too rough, they will cancel the show, but performers are trained that the show much go on, so unless it's completely unsafe, chances are we will be performing. We may look a little weird, but we still do it.”
She says the best part of performing at sea is the people she meets, including her fiancé, whom she met while they were both working for Royal Caribbean.
“Working on a cruise ship, your colleagues are from all over the world,” she says. “You end up learning so much about different countries and their cultures and form lifelong friendships. You find that the world is actually pretty small and you have more in common with people than you think.”
When Stage Right was casting for “Cinderella,” Slater felt that since she was home for a while, she'd like to be part of the show.
“Having worked with Tony and Renata (Marino) in the past, I knew it would be a fun and rewarding experience. It is also very cool to be a part of an original production,” she says.
She describes her character as the same “magical maternal creature” in the classic fairy tale “with a bit more sass.”
Abigail Hazlett, originally from Lower Burrell, portrays Cinderella and says audiences will recognize her character who is a servant to her evil stepmother and stepsisters.
“But they're also going to get the Stage Right twists Tony always adds to his original takes on classic tales,” she adds. “You'll see some Disney-inspired details, some Grimm-inspired characters, some references from Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical, all mashed up into one original new Cinderella.”
Marino has incorporated a score featuring “some gorgeous, timeless standards” in telling the story, Hazlett says.
“The songs are going to be familiar to the adults and will introduce some beautiful new music to the youngsters. My favorite song is the old standard, ‘Anytime.' They just don't write melodies like that anymore,” she says.
She also sings “Look for the Silver Lining,” originally sung by Judy Garland, and “I'm Falling In Love with Someone” with her Prince, Noah Telford of Greensburg, which they performed together in a production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” a few years ago.
Marino says he's always wanted to create a show using public domain music. His wife, Renata, who is choreographer and plays the Wicked Stepmother, recommended songs that fit moments in the show with some lyric changes.
The cast of “Cinderella” also includes Katy Stewart of Greensburg and Kaylee Hansberry of New Kensington as the Wicked Stepsisters, Magee Heverly of Greensburg and Lucy Cramer of Latrobe as the Mice, and Anthony Marino of Greensburg as Steward.
Cast members also will be featured in a “Saturday Mornings with Books Come Alive: Cinderella” library-based musical program at 10 a.m. June 17 at the Lamp Theatre. Admission is $8, $5 children.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.