FLORENCE – Florence Little Theatre’s 2020-23 season will be the first full season since the pandemic. It opens Friday night with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “Cinderella,” directed by Robin Thompson.
“Cinderella” is the story of Ella, a beautiful, young girl who lives with her wicked stepmother and her two daughters, Thompson said. In another part of the kingdom lives Prince Topper who is trying to learn his place in the kingdom. When the scheming adviser Sebastian suggests throwing a ball for the Prince to find his potential bride, his and Ella’s worlds collide.
Thompson said “Cinderella” is very conscious of the kingdom and wants the prince to make it better. It‘s got a little social message in there – that we need to look out for everyone in the kingdom, the poor ones, and the wealthy ones and make it a unified kingdom – Cinderella inspires the Prince, Thompson said. The story has some twists and turns in it.
Expect the unexpected with this retelling of the classic fairytale, Thompson said.
In the original version of “Cinderella,” produced in 1957, Julie Andrews played the lead role of Cinderella. It was a television special, Thompson said. And then in the early 1960s it was remade with Lesley Ann Warren starring as Cinderella.
“Then it was expanded into a full Broadway show in about 2010,” Thompson said.
It has been updated, but it is the same “Cinderella” story with some twists. Thompson said. They’ve made it very adult feeling but children will enjoy it because it is basically the same story.
“It has a lot of humor that adults will get,” Thompson said. “The music is absolutely gorgeous; typical Rodgers and Hammerstein.”
The show has approximately 40 people on stage, including pit singers and orchestras. And if count stage crew and prop people about 50-60 involved have worked to bring this show to the FLT stage, Thompson said.
He said Florence Little Theatre is very fortunate to have so much talent in the area.
“I had about 70 people audition for the show, and we cast about 40,” he said. “I have a great team.”
Thompson said it is very important to find the right mix of actors on stage, those who work well together. He said it is always difficult to select the cast.
“Once the show is cast, I feel like I have the hardest job done,” he said.
Emily Coker Ellerbe plays the role of Ella in the production, and Christian Rogers is Topher, the prince. Other principle members of the cast are: Tippi Harwell (Madame, Stepmother)), Eric Billman (Sebastian, Advisor), Arlene Boyd (Marie, Fairy Godmother), Margaret Saverance (Gabrielle, Stepsister), Olivia Parrott (Charlotte, Stepsister), James Reaves (Jean-Michel) and David W. Boyd (Lord Pinkleton)
The ensemble includes: Della Avent, Brittany Baker, Aubrey Bazen, Delaney Bessenger, Joshua Breen, Ashlyn Cady, Katrina Connell, Kathleen Covington, Regan Cowley, Rhonda Cusaac, Shirley Cusaac, Alonzo Davis, Kadryn Davis, Max Falck, Rebecca Grice, Wyatt Huggins, Risa Lane, Lynne Langston, Shelby Lewis, Lauren Elise Reynolds, Whit Richardson, Nori Russell, Matt Sims, Gracie Smith, Jonathan Steward, Ray Taylor, Jennings Thompson, and Emi Weaver.
Thompson will be assisted by Jumana Swindler, assistant director; Frankie Sullivan, choreographer; and his brother, Shaw Thompson, musical director.
He and his brother have worked together on several productions.
“I played in the old theater on Cashua for years, and I directed the last show ‘Oklahoma.’ It was the closing show in the old building. And then when we moved into this this theater Shaw directed Jesus Christ Superstar, and I did the music.”
Thompson has been involved in some major musicals with Florence Little Theatre, including “King and I,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Big River,” “South Pacific,” “Nunsense” and now “Cinderella.”
“I love Rodgers and Hammerstein,” he said.
“I’ve been music director for probably over 70 musicals here at the little theatre,” Thompson said. “I directed nine or 10 shows. I was in ‘Carrousel’ way back in 1981. But when they found out I could play the piano I ended up doing music more than being on stage. I am a musician at heart. I love to play. The last one I did before this was the ‘King and I.’ I have been working a long, long time at the theater.”
Thompson said he first played for a show back in college in 1980 and has been involved in theater ever since. He has served on the Florence Little Theatre Board of Directors
“I done a little bit of everything,” he said.
Thompson said the most difficult thing about directing is the attention to all the details from costumes to choreography to blocking.
Making sure you have taken care of all the details is the most difficult thing, he said.
“The better the show the more attention you have paid to every single detail,” Thompson said. “We all work well together. We are on the same page. We think alike.”
A musical such as this one take a commitment of time from all involved, he said.
“Florence Little Theatre is known for its musicals, Thompson said.
It is a large commitment. People give about two months of their time, he said.
“I think in the world we live in today everybody needs to know there are still some happy endings, good overcomes evil,” Thompson said about this play. “It is an uplifting story. It is funny as it can be. It has fabulous special effects. The fairy godmother flies. You are transported into another world. You leave the theater feeling better than when you came. The music is absolutely beautiful.”
Thompson said it is going to be a wonderful evening in the theater. Rodgers and Hammerstein are America’s best, he said. They give us that wonderful moment to get away from reality.
A native of Florence, Thompson is director of music and organist for Main Street United Methodist Church in Dillon and also accompanies at the Jewish Synagogue on Friday nights. He is very active with Masterworks Choir and supports the arts in many ways in Florence, He teaches voice and piano. He is the accompanist for weddings and funerals.
“Music is a major part of my life,” Thompson said. “I found a home at FLT and I’m never any happier than when I’m doing music for one of the groups I am participating in.”
Tickets are $30 for adults $25 for seniors 62 and older and $18 for children and students. They are available online or at the box office. Dates and show times are Friday, Sept. 9 and Saturday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, matinee, Sept 11, at 3 p.m. and Tuesday-Saturday, Sept. 13-Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m. This show is appropriate for all ages.
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