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Interview: Ron Jenkins and Avery Mills of CINDERELLA at Lionheart Productions

Interview: Ron Jenkins and Avery Mills of CINDERELLA at Lionheart Productions

This enchanting show coming November 4, 5, 6, 11, & 12, 2022 to the Grant Fine Arts Center!

Interview: Ron Jenkins and Avery Mills of CINDERELLA at Lionheart Productions

Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella opens at the Grant Fine Arts Center this week, bringing back Lion Heart Productions' first large-cast musical since Mamma Mia! In 2019. The show is running 2 weekends, through November 12th, and is the new Broadway adaptation of the classic musical. This contemporary take on the classic tale features Rodgers & Hammerstein's most beloved songs, including "In My Own Little Corner," "Impossible/It's Possible" and "Ten Minutes Ago". Broadway World Michigan had a chance to speak with Director Ron Jenkins and one of the show's stars, Avery Mills playing Ella, about the delightful holiday comedy. Enjoy our chat and their fun answers to get you excited for the performance tonight and in the coming weeks!

Broadway World Michigan: Can you give our readers a brief background of yourself and then your theatre career as an introduction?

Ron Jenkins: This is Lion Heart's 25th season and I have been acting on stage as well as working backstage for shows with Lion Heart for 24 years. My favorite role as an actor was C.S. Lewis in "Shadowlands" and my favorite show, so far, to direct was Guys and Dolls, but Cinderella could easily change that answer. As a school psychologist, acting and directing seemed to fit very easily.

Avery Mills: I grew up all over West Michigan in Spring Lake, Grand Haven, and graduated from Zeeland. After that, I moved to Grand Rapids where I went to GRCC for Vocal Performance and studied under some really incredible teachers. I just moved back to Grand Rapids after living in Nagoya, Japan for three years. I miss it terribly, but I am so glad to be able to do theatre again!! I have been doing theatre locally since I graduated from High School. There are too many shows to list - but I have worked in Hamilton, Holland Civic Theatre, West Michigan Savoyards, and Master Arts Theatre. As well as a handful of shows when I was attending GRCC. My most recent shows have mostly been performing Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta with the West Michigan Savoyards. My last role was Mabel in Pirates of Penzance. It's a group I hold near and dear to my heart!

How would you describe Cinderella in your own words?

Jenkins: Cinderella is a classic story with a huge appeal to all ages. Our version has all the original music with 6 additional songs, a few new characters, and lots of funny parts.

Mills: This new version of Cinderella is so fun and interesting. It is a very extravagant show and has been so fun to learn. The original characters are treated with such love and the new characters bring so much surprise, growth, and silliness to the story as a whole. Prince Topher has such an interesting role and much-needed character development alongside the steadfast Jean-Michel that is so fun to see. There are a lot of new twists and transformations that are just so exciting to do and I can't wait to hear the audience's reaction! It is such a wonderful story of self-discovery and growth that everyone, no matter their age can learn from and relate to.

What made you decide to / want to direct Cinderella?

Jenkins: After reviewing all the versions of Cinderella for the stage I settled on this version, in part because we had performed Cinderella, (directed by Kathy Jenkins) several years ago and I wanted a fresh version. When I saw all the funny lines and the other changes I fell in love with it and knew this version was the one we had to perform. The other factor was that Lion Heart has a costuming crew that is geniuses and I knew they would make this show full of gorgeous costumes.

How would you describe your character, Ella?

Mills: She is a lot more complex in this version and is trying desperately to break out of her family's hold on her. She is learning how to stand up for herself and go after the things she wants.

What was your introduction to Cinderella?

Mills: I guess that would be the obvious Disney version, but I was more obsessed with the Brandy R&H when I was a kid. Around the same as getting into those movies was when I really got into the original fairy tale versions...you know the one where the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet...

Do you see any similarities between Ella and yourself?

Mills: Oh for sure! I think I went through the same sort of transformation while growing up as well. Learning how to do things for yourself even if it becomes a nuisance to someone else. Learning to be confident in your choices and speaking your mind when necessary. But doing so with as much gentleness and grace as possible.

Did you do any special preparation for your role?

Mills: I watched everything under the sun about Ella and her relationships. I even watched some "non-traditional" versions like Ever After. That one felt like the most realistic version of Ella and definitely informed how I think about her and how she reacts to the world around her. I really wanted to know what others who have played her thought about her and her development as well so I watched a ton of interviews with actresses that have played her in various media. I really liked to see the various forms of her that exist and try to sort of capture them all as best as I could. She is sweet and fragile but also resilient and tough.

Do you have a favorite moment, line, "and/or" song in the show?

Jenkins: My favorite line is from the fairy godmother as she is transforming into the fairy godmother. Cinderella comments on the fairy godmother's gown, saying, "You'd be surprised how many beautiful gowns have crazy women in them."

Mills: I think my favorite moment is when Topher really stands up for himself for the first time. My favorite line is definitely "You'd be surprised how many beautiful gowns have crazy women in them!" My favorite song is a tough one. I would have to say I am torn between "Lovely Night", "Loneliness of Evening", and the "Prologue". All of the music is great fun though! It's so hard to choose!

Describe the show in five words:

Jenkins: Beautiful, heartwarming, funny, touching, eye candy (for the sets and costumes.)

What makes LionHeart's interpretation of Cinderella unique?

Jenkins: Our interpretation gives more life to each of the characters.

What would you say makes your production of Cinderella stand out from other productions of the show?

Jenkins: Our actors have been able to bring each character in this show into the real world. Our prince makes you see the prince as a real person instead of a caricature of a person. The wicked stepmother and stepsisters are also brought out as real people you might know. But best of all the wicked stepmother explains how Cinderella got her name.

Why should people come to see Lion Heart's production of Cinderella?

Jenkins: Everyone will be delighted with our production of Cinderella. From grandparents to grandchildren and everyone in between. You will laugh, you will cheer, and have a great time alone or with your whole family. Come watch the prince and Cinderella fall in love and see what happens to the stepmother and stepsisters at the end.

Mills: Well, I would hope People would want to come to support us and see all the hard work our cast has put into the show! On the other hand, I know that there are a lot of people that don't know this show has been updated and I really hope to surprise them with the crazy twists and turns and new characters. And who doesn't love Rogers and Hammerstein? Especially the crazy new twist right at the end of the ball...

Cinderella opens this Friday, November 4, and runs until November 12th at Grant Fine Arts Center located on the campus of Grant High School at 331 East State Street in. Grant, Michigan.

For tickets and more information, visit lionheartproductions.org and click on "Current Production". Tickets are currently available online and in person on the day of show.

Connect with Lion Heart Productions for complete info on Cinderella on Facebook LionHeartProductions, on Twitter at @LionHeartProd7, on Instagram at @lionheart_productions, and online at www.lionheartproductions.org.


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From This Author - Brian Hilbrand

Brian Hilbrand's interest in musicals started when we watched Sound of Music, and his mom and her parents were musical.  He started school musicals in lower el... (read more about this author)


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