CARRBORO, N.C. (March 17) — The University of North Carolina men’s basketball team has the top seed in the South bracket for the NCAA championship tournament, so if there’s a Cinderella story coming out of the Chapel Hill area this March, it’ll have to be the actual Cinderella story, as chosen from three different scripts Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote for the fairy tale, which students in three honors theater classes at Carrboro High School considered for their spring musical.
The theater in this high school, near the UNC campus, wasn’t even built just 10 years ago. “The theater shop was in a closet, and the band met in the weight room,” said Brett Stegall, the school’s theater director. “We’ve come a long way from building and dismantling sets in order to reassemble them at other schools. We’ve moved on from hanging lights off the second-floor railings … and true to our ‘make it work’ mentality … gone are the days of rearranging our library in order to host our one-act festival.”
The pit orchestra alone for Cinderella featured 27 students including John Trotta, Max Randall, and Owen Welch on keyboard and, with impressive fanfares for the prince, trumpeters Karen Driehuys and Bella Larsen. The harmonious ensemble playing supported every note sung on stage and put a finishing touch on the dances, songs, and scene changes.
And when the overture sounds as good as it did here, getting the audience into the play, what comes next is bound to be good.
The first and second acts both open with a huge production number that musicals from this era are famous for. About 30 students in the ensemble play supporting roles but hold their character from the moment they come on stage until they’re out of sight, a refreshing attention to detail on the part of not only the student actors but the directors.
For example, the ball where Prince Christopher (Daniel O’Grady) meets and kisses Cinderella (Caroline Smith)—for the first time in this script—features a bit of prancing around on a crowded dance floor but also some impressive spin moves.
What you can’t hear in the trailer Carrboro put together is the singing, which just rippled through the house. In particular, Ally Miller, who played Cinderella’s fairy godmother, was convincing with her character, tuneful and rich with her voice, and nimble with her tongue as she explained, “Because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, impossible things are happening every day.”
The first non-production scene in the play takes place in the house where Cinderella, her stepmother (Millie McGuire), and her stepsisters (Margaret Hubacher and Avery Hutcheson) live. It’s unfortunate that the characters are skin-deep in this script, but these three injected every ounce of personality they could into the characters, using expressive body language, crystal clear tones in their voices, and shades of meaning in their glares.
Cinderella and Christopher don’t have much deeper material to work with than the stepsisters and are left posing that age-old non-dilemma: “Do I love you because you’re beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?” But, then again, they kiss twice. The pace of the lines leading up to the kisses may have been a bit rushed, but the kisses were anything but.
Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, originally written for TV in 1957. In performance at Carrboro High School in Carrboro, North Carolina, March 16–19. Musical productions in high schools often include the hard work of hundreds of students, teachers, and other community members. We write about them in support of new federal legislation in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which directs schools to include music and the arts as part of a “well-rounded education” for students in the US.