Happily Ever After: TUTS looks to blend the modern and the classic with Cinderella

It’s a story as familiar as your own reflection, complete with fairy godmothers, mean stepmothers, a pumpkin coach and – of course – the famous glass slipper. Cinderella has captivated generations of children and adults, with multiple iterations since it’s reported first appearance in Italy in 1634. It is, quite possibly, the most famous of fairy tales.

When it hits the TUTS stage at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts next month, however, it will bring with it an energy that looks to blend the story’s classic elements with modern sensibilities. Originally written for television with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, the duo behind such Broadway musical favorites as The Sound of MusicOklahoma! and South Pacific, the musical first premiered on CBS in 1957 with Julie Andrews in the title role. TUTS’ version is inspired by the updated teleplay starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, broadcast on ABC in 1997.

Eboni Bell Darcy is the director, and she notes that those expecting to see a Cinderella where the main character waits around for her prince to rescue her could be surprised.

“In this version, the godmother shows up and she tells Cinderella that she has to stop wishing and actually take action in her life and do something about it,” says Darcy. “And because Cinderella takes that action, because she says, ‘You know what? My stepmother and my stepsisters ripped up my mother’s dress and I’m sad about it, but I’m going to go in here and I’m going to fix it and I’m going to head off to the ball,’ the godmother grants her magic and bestows her with all the things she needs to go to the ball.”

Darcy is betting that message about taking action will resonate with audiences who like to see a little empowerment with their romance and magic. And there is plenty of magic.

“It has a magical element that lets people get lost in the illusion,” she says. “There are different technical elements and projections to enhance the magic and really take them on a ride.”

The production incorporates the talents of local and national performers, including students who are part of TUTS’ River and Humphreys School of Musical Theatre programs. Darcy loves being able to work with such a large and diverse cast, and points out that for the young people in the show, it’s an amazing chance not only to be on stage but also to see up close the work it takes to be in professional theater

“It’s incredible that I have this opportunity to work with a cast of professionals and connect them with these young people who are hungry to learn and to be a part of the industry and to watch those groups work together and interact together and learn from one another,” she says.

One of those young people is Makenzie Woolridge, an 18-year-old from the Cypress area, who was a student in the Humphreys School of Musical Theatre and is now part of TUTS’ pre-professional program. Houston audiences may have seen her in TUTS productions of Head Over HeelsInto the Woods and Bring it On. She was a 2023 Tommy Tune winner for Cypress Ranch High School’s production of Into the Woods as well, a performance that sent her to the Jimmy Awards in New York City, the national awards ceremony that recognizes student excellence in musical theatre. She’s in the show’s ensemble and understudying the role of Cinderella.

“Being an understudy isn’t an easy task, so the most challenging part of my role will be memorizing two character tracks,” she says. “But I always love a good challenge, so I’m excited. I feel like TUTS has helped me a lot with my transition from educational theatre to professional. I still have a lot to learn, I feel much more comfortable and confident in what I have to offer in professional artistic spaces.”

Woolridge is joined on stage by Jake Hurst, who performed with The River, TUTS’ program to provide arts education and performance opportunities for students with disabilities and their siblings, and is now part of the Humphreys School Academy program. The 18-year-old high school senior from Katy is in the Cinderella teen ensemble.

“It’s so much fun!” He says about his experiences with The River and the Humphreys School, where he’s been part of such TUTS shows as Sponge Bob Squarepants: The MusicalInto the Woods and Mary Poppins. “My favorite part of teen ensemble is you get be involved more, in one way or another. In SpongeBob I was a sardine and I had many parts, meaning many more costume changes and time on stage. It was fun being on stage more often and interacting with other cast members.”

As the date to opening night draws closer, Darcy says the excitement level among the cast and crew amps up. She knows they’re bringing a show that’s special to so many to the stage, and she’s looking forward to audiences enjoying the fruits of their efforts.

“People are going to come to this show also and feel like they’re seeing Houston on stage,” she says. “It’s going to feel comfortable, it’s going to feel familiar. And there’s a happy ending as well.”

TUTS Cinderella runs Dec. 5 through 24 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at $40. www.tuts.com.

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