BWW Review: Making Theatre Accessible to New Audiences: MSMT's Sensory Friendly CINDERELLA
For most of us who love the theatre, attending a performance is an exciting, stimulating, anticipated event, but for some children with sensory issues, going to the theatre can be fraught with anxiety; a room full of strange people, new sounds and fantastical characters - all can make this experience overwhelming. And yet, once immersed in the magic of the play, the children can find delight and connection.
To encourage this journey of discovery and to provide families with a safe viewing experience, Maine State Music Theatre last year initiated a program of sensory friendly rehearsal performances of the Theatre for Young Audiences shows. MSMT uses its large rehearsal hall as the performance venue - a space less daunting than the 600-seat Pickard main stage. The hour-long shows are presented with piano (not full orchestra), in full costume with relevant props, and include interaction among the cast, crew, and directors with the young audience. The families have access to a quiet room, are free to move about during the performance, enjoy a snack break, and receive a study/activity guide and some small gifts to take home.
The project which has been underwritten by a generous grant from the Pennsylvania-based Anna Maria Moggio Foundation and supported locally by such relevant service organizations such as Learning Disibilities Association of Maine, Autism Society of Maine, Maine Children's Alliance, and G.E.A.R, has grown significantly in its brief history, as the delightful, well-attended, Saturday, May 19th performance of Robin and Clark's Cinderella illustrated.
Both children and adults seemed completely engaged with the magic of this musical version of Cinderella with book, music, and lyrics by Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark. The creators use the familiar source material but put a modern spin on it, subtly raising issues about child abuse, victim self-esteem and the discovery of empowerment and encouraging youngsters to be kind and helpful to others, to believe in their dreams, and to understand that love is a transformative force.
Directed/choreographed by Curt Dale Clark with Raymond Marc Dumont as Assistant Director/Choreographer, the work shines with lively wit, colorful characters, and heartfelt sentiment. Clark brings his long association with the piece to bear on the production and he and Dumont create fluid staging, dances, and seamless flowing action. Moreover, they know how to engage the audience in wonderful moments like enlisting the children to help Cinderella finish her chores or the Fairy Godmother's asking for the audience support to make the wishes come true.
Music Director Ben McNaboe played the piano score with supple ease; Travis Grant created the elaborate, colorful period costumes and wigs - all the more amusing for the cross-dressing trio of stepmother and step sisters.
The youthful cast, largely from the University of Southern Maine musical theatre department, does the piece justice, inhabiting their characters with gusto. Madelyn Rancourt and Elliot Nagler make a radiant romantic couple as Cinderella and her Prince; Nakesha "Kay" Warren is a warm, boisterous, Fairy Godmother; Brian Pelletier is Sir Reginald, the Prince's serious and attentive aide. As the narcissistic trio of mean step-relatives, Ben Walker-Dubay makes mother Blanch a haughty, supercilious woman, while Miles Obrey as Soberella and Andrew Carney as Giggletta limn the bickering, jealous, vain step sisters to perfection. Stage Manager Laura Scott anchors the performance and, together with Clark who hosted, helped guide the youngsters through the experience.
MSMT is to be congratulated for providing this much needed service to Midcoast families and for its continued commitment to building new, inclusive audiences.
Photos Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, Broadway World
The fully-stage Cinderella will be presented on the Pickard main stage on June 13 at 10 am and 12:30 pm and on June 16 at 11:00 a.m., as well as in Lewiston on June 14 at 10 am. For more information contact 207-725-8769 or visit msmt.org