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Finding the kindness of Cinderella

Bailey Stender, playing Ella in 'Cinderella,' holds up her glass slipper. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)1 / 5
Ezra Prickett, playing the role of Prince Topher, leads the search party for Cinderella. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 5
Ella, played by senior Bailey Stender, imagines an evening with the prince, along with her stepsisters Gabrielle and Charlotte, played by Lani Goei and Ellen Roubik and her wicked stepmother Madame, played by Andrea Hitz. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)3 / 5
Even Fairy Godmothers need to study. Duluth East senior Emma Halstead works on homework while waiting for her next cue at Cinderella rehearsal. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)4 / 5
"Small successes like making sure everyone has costume or three to wear on stage is also a feat in itself. This show is very costume-heavy, and they are truly a spectacle," said co-director Greg Jones.5 / 5

Magically transforming creatures, pumpkins that turn into carriages, and glass slippers —The East High School Theater department has been getting in touch with their magical side for the past eight weeks in preparation for the fall production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella." Directed by Peter Froehlingsdorf and Greg Jones, this well-known fairy tale gets a bit of an update with a new script and a few new characters. The basics are all still there — poor but kind Ella attends the ball, meets the prince, leaves her glass slipper, all the classic songs, etc. However, the 2013 Broadway revival revamped the script to focus it a bit differently.

"Once we dug into the story, a story we thought everyone already knew, we discovered the cleverness of the new script, a script that resonates particularly loudly with the current noise around us. The central plot has been refocused on kindness and fairness instead just love at first sight," Jones said.

The refocus on the power of kindness is a refreshing take for senior Bailey Stender, who steps into the eponymous role.

"I like that she's all about kindness and inspiring kindness in others. That's my main aspiration in life," Stender said.

This is Stender's 16th play production as she's been acting in shows at the school and the Playhouse since she was a little girl. She's been preparing for this role since the spring. Auditions were held at the end of last school year.

"I actually found out on my birthday, June 8. Mr. Froe called me and said 'I have a birthday present for you, you're Cinderella,' " Stender said. "I did not expect it at all, but I was just so excited."

While Stender is the theater veteran, it's her fairy godmother's first foray into the theater world. Senior Emma Halstead has been singing in choir for years, but she's never taken her voice to the theatrical stage.

"I'm mostly nervous about memorizing my lines, because I've never had to do that before," Halstead said. "But it's been an awesome experience."

Halstead's character has changed slightly in the revamp, as she first appears as an older woman whom Ella befriends.

"Because Cinderella shows her kindness, she changes into the fairy godmother and helps her back," Halstead said.

But not everyone in the show is on board the kindness train. Andrea Hitz's wicked stepmother Madame and Ben Churchill's scheming Sebastian are there to intervene when things get too cheery. Hitz says her character's not entirely evil.

"She's so mean to Cinderella, but she does have very funny lines. I think she's more likeable in a really hateable way," Hitz said.

Her favorite songs to sing are "When You're Driving Through the Moonlight" and "A Lovely Night" because she gets to "play a full range of emotion from disgusted, to happy and back to mean."

Churchill's Sebastian is one of the new characters added to the show. Sebastian is the prince's lord chancellor, who constantly lies to the prince about the state of his kingdom.

"I'm a lot like Jafar from 'Aladdin.' I want power and respect so I manipulate the prince," Churchill said.

That manipulation might be the inspiration behind the motivation of the other new character, Jean Michele, a revolutionary in search of income equality, played by sophomore Nick Van Loh.

"He's a fun new character who wants to lead a revolution because the government is being run pretty badly," Van Loh said.

In keeping with the show's theme of kindness and equity, the play will also be collecting donations to Feeding Local Kids, a partnership between CHUM and Second Harvest Food Bank, supported by the Duluth Federation of Teachers to make sure kids have the food they need when they're not in school. Attendees can bring monetary donations before the show, during intermission and after the show.

If you go

What: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 27, 28, 29, matinee Sunday, Oct. 30 at 12:30 p.m.

Where: Duluth East High School auditorium, 301 N. 40th Ave. E.

Tickets: sold at door, $10 students, $15 adults, kids under 5 free

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176