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Previews: Rodgers and Hammerstein's CINDERELLA at the Straz Center

Thirty-seven Patel Conservatory students take to the stage on June 24 & 25

Previews: Rodgers and Hammerstein's CINDERELLA at the Straz Center

After a three-week intensive program, students at Patel Conservatory are bringing the magic of Disney with a contemporary voice to the stage. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (Broadway Version) takes center stage at Ferguson Hall on June 24 and 25 with a cast of 37 students, ages 13-18.

With new characters and twists to the classic magical love story, eighteen-year-old Chesney McMurphy and Ben Sutherland have the lead roles as the stepdaughter and future princess, Ella, and Prince Topher.

A graduate of Tampa Christian Community School, Chesney has been part of the Patel family since 2019. She is attending Florida Southern College for musical theatre.

"It's really fun to play Ella in this show because of how inspiring it is," she said. "One of the show's themes is that impossible things are happening every day. It's a great takeaway from the show that dreams do come true, and it's really fun and magical. This version is similar to the Disney version but adds much more to the story."

Also, in the 2022 graduating class, from Newsome High School, Ben is heading to the University of Tampa for a degree in music theatre. Cinderella was his first audition with Patel.

"I'm grateful for everyone giving me this opportunity," said Ben. "The thing I like about Topher is he is a fully-grown man, yet he has these childish attributes. In the version, you can see a little of the prince's personality and how Ella reveals his true nature. When he's forced to go to the ball, he meets this young lady, and she really brings out the good in him. He's not the standard Disney prince at this point. He's a normal human being who's been brought out by this young lady. He's usually stoic but comes to life when he sees her. How excited he gets when he sees Ella is really fun to work with. Their relationship is perfectly romantical."

Chesney said she also enjoyed bringing dimension to a typically one-dimensional Disney character.

"We were adding a lot more and making Ella more human and relatable, seeing the relationship between her stepmother and her stepsisters and building on that," said Chesney.

When asked what makes this production special, Ben replied, "I think the beautiful music of Rodgers and Hammerstein tells more of a story than the crowd will be used to, and the script is full of magic. It breaks the stereotype of perfect princesses and evil villains. Your dreams can come true and impossible things can happen if you truly try to make them possible."

Chesney added, "I like that there's a more added story than people are used to. I think it's great for all ages. It doesn't matter who you are, what your circumstances are or past is; you just need to have a little bit of faith and trust the magic that anything can happen, that impossible things are happening every day."

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (Broadway Version) is at Ferguson Hall on June 24 and 25.

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