Published May 1, 2023
Audiences of all ages love UB Theatre and Dance’s spectacular new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, running for nine public performances in all, from Thu. April 27 – Sunday, May 7, 2023 at UB Center for the Arts! Tickets: https://tinyurl.com/mr3j2vwk and at the door!
UB Junior Music Theatre major Glen Chitty plays Prince Topher (short for Christopher) and we had the opportunity to chat with him about the weeks of preparation and work that the cast, technical crew and show directors poured into the show. Its themes of kindness, honesty, and inherent decency in the face of contemptuous political power feel freshly relevant in 2023 America, but it's the humor and heart which charm and bring lightness. Kids enjoy it viscerally, while adults can appreciate the layered humor and wit. Not to mention the gorgeous songs, costumes, set and lighting design, and a good old-fashioned love story. There's something for everyone.
Q. What has been most fun about working on Cinderella?
A: Aside from the beautiful music, I like that the design goal was to have the storybook fly off the page onto the stage! So it’s fun because I don’t have to act hard! When there’s 20 bodies in the space and I’m across the stage from Cinderella at the ball, there’s no way that you can’t feel the magnetism between these two still people while the others waltz around them.
The story has a lot of heart, and it makes you reflect on kindness. It’s also a musical for our target audience of eight-years-old (though families and older patrons will love it too). We have these great moments of hyper-realism and dream reality, but we also want to dig in on the reality of oppressive power and people who aren’t being listened to or heard, (represented by) all of the poor people in the show.
(On the surface) it’s a nice musical with a charming love story, but there’s also the realism of oppressive power structures, as with Cinderella’s stepmother and my lord protector Sebastian (who becomes the Prince’s guardian after the King’s death). The show is a wonderfully weird mix of dream and reality which is constantly being toyed with throughout. (The melding of realism and the fantastical) is really lovely.
Q. How has being in the show affected your daily life?
A: I feel like I’ve always been an optimist so I do connect with themes of kindness and the Golden Rule. It’s interesting because, in all of Act One, the Prince strictly interacts with people who don’t follow that. Among those people, it makes him question, if he’s in a room full of people who are frowning, why is he smiling? So he always feels this confusion. "Why is there always this weird energy here?"
In my everyday life I carry a smile and, I guess it’s blissful ignorance that I’m not always examining any deeper level. But this semester there was a Dreams Affirmed meeting in which we talked about allyship and how to aid in power struggles that are working against people of color. (Founded in 2020, Dreams Affirmed is UB's first student-run diversity club for students of color in the Performing Arts. Cinderella is portrayed by Isabella Gomez-Barrientos, herself a woman of color.)
I realize that I’m a white, straight man and I’ve never had to think about how things aren’t equal for everybody. I’m always optimistic, but it doesn’t exactly work with everybody else, and others. Topher has to investigate very deeply: “These poor people aren’t being treated right. How do I fix it?” And that’s what I have to build into myself now (offstage). How can I be a better ally to minority groups-my friends-of course?
When we first meet the Prince he is so troubled with not knowing who he is and not having a real sense of self, and the power structures in which he’s being (groomed and) rushed to become King. He hasn’t found his way in. The power structure is saying, “You’re going to be the King, but we’re going to handle all the stuff that you think you should care about.” And he thinks, “I don’t know if I want to do that.”
The ball is thrust upon him too. He doesn’t really want to get married or be king, and a lot of the formalities are him just walking through the motions and everyone doing as they’re expected. Then they play a game, which is a roast battle, and when it’s Ella’s turn she doesn’t go through the motions at all.
His expectation is that everyone is just there to have their status elevated and become part of the power structure, but he meets this girl who is not playing and is herself. She’s riding in her own direction, so he has to investigate, which is his journey in Act Two.
The Prince’s new passion is to find the person who introduced him to kindness. He puts the (royal court) in the background: “I’m going to find this woman who helps me turn the key and unlock this new kingdom-wide mentality of kindness-first.” That’s kind of how he falls into the puzzle.
It is a timeless story and there’s a reason we’ve told it for so long and there have been so many interpretations. There’s always a power structure that doesn’t feel quite right and there’s always one solution: “Be kind to one another.” We’re always being reminded, “Maybe I should give someone a hug today.” It’s always relevant.
Q: What have been some of the acting challenges for you in this role?
A: In a lot of contemporary musical theatre I’ve been able to stand on the leg of, “Look at how high I can sing!” In every show I’ve had to sing a G, G sharp, or an A, some high note that I can just hide behind.
But for Topher it’s so weird! He’s a twenty-two-year-old kid but all of his songs are so deep in his voice and come from such a different place that I’ve never had to live in (as an actor and person). So when he sings these songs like “…ten minutes…” it’s very low and subdued. He has a naïve quality and he’s sort of buoyant, but whenever he has to plug into music it’s interesting that I have to find a way into this lower part of my voice but also command it just the same as how I would sing on high notes.
With contemporary musical theatre we’ve conditioned ourselves to be wowed by high notes, but when my song is in a six-note range it’s not very magnificent but I have to be musical about dynamic shifts and how I play within the rhythm. You can’t really hide behind a low note. That’s the biggest challenge. It kind of takes away the shield I’ve had. Now I have to really get into it as a musician and technician in my voice.
My first song is “Me, Who Am I?” In his heart, underneath all of his questioning, the Prince knows who he is and that he has a good core. His music is grounded in terms of knowing what’s what, but he has to sort it through. The music is his bridge to his true self and his opportunity to speak what he truly feels.
In Act Two most of his songs are duets with Ella. The vocal climax is “The Loneliness of the Evening,” which I think is the most beautiful song in the show. He’s been searching for her and when he finds her he soars. During their duet he realizes he wants to love her. It’s interesting that, for a guy who doesn’t really know he is, he’s always the first one to speak his heart. I do still sing in my chestier voice, but he speaks first because she’s the one who’s holding his hand through self-discovery.
Q: What will audiences enjoy most about the show?
A: There’s a lot of music you may not remember as being a part of the story. During spring break I was at home practicing and my mother and sister said, “I forgot that song was in the show. That was my favorite!” Then I’d sing another and they’d say, “That’s actually my favorite!” (laughs)
From the family side, it’s a fairy tale and you have many moments emphasizing (the theme of) kindness, but the side characters are very funny. A lot of the show is written so that a kid can understand it, but my right-hand man, Lord Protector, and the Stepmother (who are typically regarded as villains) are written so funny. A room full of adults could chuckle at it. People will laugh at many of the funny lines, even though I don’t get to say a lot of them!
Get your tickets early for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella! Meet and take a picture with members of the cast, including Cinderella, the Prince, and more, after every matinee performance.
Please note: American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters will be provided for the May 6, 2pm public performance.