The New York State Theatre Institute production, A Tale of Cinderella, an Italian-flavored musical variation on the classic yarn, comes to Manhattan for a limited public engagement at The Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, May 18-20.
The stop — which includes student shows May 15-17 — is part of a spring regional tour for the tuner, which began life in 1994 in upstate New York.
In the NYSTI's unique work, Tony Award-nominee Lorraine Serbian (Zorba) plays the title character's "godmama," La Stella, in the new Venice-set musical. She arrives via gondola and waves a magic pasta spoon. Michelle Dawson, once an Evelyn Nesbit of Broadway's Ragtime, is the feisty Cinderella. She isn't looking for rescue, lending a contemporary spin to the romance.
A Tale of Cinderella is the work of veteran lyricist George David Weiss and young rock singer-songwriter-composer Will Severin. Weiss' hits include "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love" and Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." Severin, a classically-trained guitarist, has played in the Broadway orchestra of Les Miserables and with the rock group Severin's Fortune. He composed the score for NYSTI's Audie Award-winning production of Sherlock's Secret Life, as well as scores for The Canterville Ghost and A Little Princess. A Warner Music Group grant provided seed money for A Tale in 1994, and the collaborators were handpicked by Snyder and representatives of Warner. The $500,000 from Warner was to encourage new works for family audiences, which is the mission of the 25-year-old NYSTI.
The book is by W. A. Frankonis who has adapted many classic folk stories into plays and books.
The tour cast includes Anthony Hastings (of Off-Broadway's Exactly Like You) as Prince Nicolo di Cuore; John Romeo, as Il Compari, the Prince's godfather; Joel Aroeste as Paolo, Cinderella's father; Lynnie Godfrey (Broadway's Eubie) as Cinderella's stepmother, Pulchitruda.
Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder, founding director of NYSTI, is also the director of A Tale of Cinderella. She has produced more than 140 productions including national and international tours of Rag Dolly, Handy Dandy, Sleeping Beauty, Hizzoner!, Aladdin, A Lancashire Lad and The Snow Queen, as well as Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz, which she also directed.
Choreographer Adrienne Posner has collaborated with Snyder on Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Big River, Vasilisa the Fair and A Little Princess and co directed Sleeping Beauty Kabuki which played at the Kennedy Center and toured France and Jordan.
After Tale of Cinderella premiered in Troy, NY in 1994, Warner Music commissioned an original cast recording which was released on the Atlantic Theatre label.
In 1995 the musical was videotaped and released nationally by Warner Home Video, winning a Certificate of Merit at the Chicago International Film and Video Festival as well as The Silver Award at the 1996 WorldFest International Film competition. PBS stations began airing A Tale of Cinderella in 1998. It has been broadcast more than 200 times by 174 PBS stations. The video was re-released in July as part of Warner Home Video's 75th Anniversary celebration.
The New York State Theatre Institute, now in its 25th season of performing and teaching, was created by state legislation in 1974, based on a concept of founding director Snyder. The Institute's mission is to "produce professional theatre of the highest artistic standard and to use its productions as a means of teaching within the school curriculum," according to a statement. The spring tour of A Tale of Cinderella, which started March 22 in Schenectady, is the company's way to raise visibility and celebrate the 25th anniversary, Synder told Playbill On Line.
"There's an incredible need to develop quality work," Snyder previously told Playbill On-Line. "Kids grow up knowing about football, soccer and basketball, but they don't know about theatre because they're not exposed to theatre on the same scale."
Productions of A Tale of Cinderella have been licensed in Australia and Italy, and the show will be available to stock and amateur groups after the tour possibilities are exhausted, Snyder said.
In 1986 the Institute became the first U.S. theatre company to perform in the former Soviet Union upon resumption of cultural relations between the two countries. The Institute has represented New York State and the nation in cultural exchanges with Canada, England, France, Israel, Italy and Jordan. The Institute's productions have been presented at Toronto's Royal Alexandria, The Kennedy Center and Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC. In New York, the company has presented Sleeping Beauty (1990), Narnia (1991) and Beauty & The Beast (1992) at FIT, Slow Dance on the Killing Ground (1993) at NYU's University Theatre, American Enterprise (1994) at Playhouse 46, Sherlock's Secret Life (1997) in Queens, as well as the Broadway productions of William Gibson and Joe Raposo's Rag Dolly (1986) at the Nederlander Theatre and Hizzoner! (1989) at the Longacre Theatre.
A Tale of Cinderella is co-produced by Olga A. Delorey and Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder, with musical direction by Michael A. Musial, set design by Richard Finkelstein, costume design by Brent Griffin, lighting design by John McLain, sound design by Matt Elie, dance arrangements by Dennis Buck, and orchestrations by Larry Moore.
Public performances at The Kaye, following three days of student shows beginning May 15, are 10:30 AM and 7:30 PM May 18, 2 PM and 7:30 PM May 19 and 2 PM May 20. There may be some single tickets available for the May 15-17 student shows. Call ahead. Tickets range $25-$30. Student tickets are $15. The Kaye Playhouse is at 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. Call (212) 772-4448 for reservations.
— By Kenneth Jones