A new take on 'Cinderella' with plenty of Pittsburgh ties
Once upon a time Cinderella was a meek and mild scullery maid who watched sadly and did chores while her cruel stepmother and wicked stepsisters prepared for the prince's ball.
Well, move over, wicked stepsisters, there's a new Cinderella in town.
A new take on Rodgers + Hammerstein's timeless classic fairytale musical, in which Cinderella is “more than just a pretty face with the right shoe size,” visits Heinz Hall for eight magical performances May 22-27 as part of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series.
The latest adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical by Douglas Carter Beane, originally from Wilkes-Barre, brings the chambermaid-turned-princess into a modern realm for a contemporary audience.
There are still the traditional “Disney princess” elements that little girls dream of – the glass slippers, the pumpkin coach and an elegant ball – but this Cinderella (Tatyana Lubov as Ella) is empowered to change her dreary life. Louis Griffin stars as Toper (Prince Christopher).
“The theme of the show is about having courage and being kind. There's a lot of strength and beauty in the production,” says music director and conductor Melissa Yanchak.
For Yanchak, the Heinz Hall engagement also is a homecoming. She grew up in Pittsburgh, originally from Chartiers, and her parents still live in North Strabane, where her mom, Melody Sharp, is a music teacher and her dad is retired from the Peters Township police department.
Her musical family includes her brother Michael, (“Mike Why”), a Pittsburgh beat boxer and vocalist, and her sister Meredith, a theater teacher in Austin, Texas.
Yanchak previously was a keyboard player with Ringling Bros. Circus and was music director and keyboardist for Pittsburgh Musical Theater. She was a staff member in the Voice and Musical Theatre departments of Pittsburgh CLO Academy and the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University and is a graduate of Duquesne University and Chartiers-Houston High School.
She says the “Cinderella” musical score is an expansion of the music originally written as a TV movie starring Julie Andrews in 1957. It still features favorite Rodgers + Hammerstein songs, including “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible/It's Possible” and “Ten Minutes Ago.”
“It's a really interesting score because it's so finely crafted,” she says.
A “Cinderella” cast member with Pittsburgh ties making her national tour debut is Erica Messonnier of Plano, Texas, who graduated from Point Park University with a BFA in dance and performed with Pittsburgh Musical Theater.
As part of the “Cinderella” ensemble, “14 of us work together in the background to create the story with the cast and our movement,” she says. “The cast is super talented and make a beautiful production.”
Her roles in the show – as a page boy, a peasant and a guest in the ballroom scene and wedding scene at the end of the musical – involve several costume changes.
Before embarking on the 10-month-long tour, she was a dancer with two cruise lines and for Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, Va.
Tim Nwranski of Pittsburgh (drums/percussion) and Greg Anthony Rassen of Chester, W.Va. (music supervisor) also are part of the “Cinderella” production.
Before the stage version of Rodgers + Hammerstein's “Cinderella” debuted on Broadway in 2013, featuring the new book by Beane, two remakes followed the original “Cinderella” in 1957.
The first television remake in 1965 introduced Lesley Ann Warren in the title role. The second TV remake in 1997 featured an all-star cast, with Brandy as Cinderella, Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, Bernadette Peters as the Stepmother, Whoopi Goldberg as the Queen and Jason Alexander as Lionel.
In 2015, two-time Emmy Award winner Fran Drescher (“The Nanny”) joined the touring company for the Los Angeles engagement of the award-winning Broadway musical, reprising the wicked stepmother role she played on Broadway in 2014 that featured pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen as Cinderella.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.