Happen to drive through Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven this weekend? You might have noticed pixie dust in the air, along with stirrings of Old Man Winter.
Yes, Fairy Tale Central! Two Island school theater productions — “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast” — spread magic and make-believe this past Friday and Saturday evening (Sunday Oak Bluffs matinee).
Adapted from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s TV version, the tale of the overworked girl enchanted friends, family and theater buffs at the Tisbury School with strong casting and stirring musical numbers.
Reuben Fitzgerald, making his directorial debut, and long-standing music director Peter Boak expertly guided 23 7th and 8th graders, bringing Cinderella to life.
Fitzgerald worked with Boak, choreographer Cathy Weiss, costumer Alice Robinson and set designer Julie Brand, in choosing the right production for this year’s talent pool. “For my first effort I wanted something reliable,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.
“I like to have a good solid composer behind the production when we go to work,” Mr. Boak added.
The story? A rags-to-riches tale with glass slippers, magic carriages, curfews, and Prince Charming. Who could resist?
As the musical unfolds, Cinderella is keeping house for a villainous stepmother and two bumbling stepsisters. Demure Cinderella, beautifully played by Casey McAndrews, sings charmingly pleasingly of her hopes and dreams “In My Own Little Corner.”
But dreams won’t get Cinderella past the wicked stepmother or the insufferable stepsisters. Kaela Vecchia-Zeitz captured the righteous stepmother role perfectly with just the right amount of nerve — authoritative, sneering, and incipiently sweet.
And of course the “wickedness with glee” acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree for twins-in-real-life Megan and Michaela Piche, who played Portia and Joy. They stole the scene in the domineering, trumped-up, and lightly comical stepsister act singing “Stepsisters Lament.”
The evening’s “Standout” went to King Ben Nadelstein whose innocent but comedic timing and expressive personality played well in his duet “Your Majesties” with the delicately portrayed Queen, Olivia Jacobs.
Prince Max Santos commanded a restrained, believable performance befitting royal stature. His song “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” showcased unwavering vocal strength as he agonized over romantic options.
Though seen very little, but still a pivotal role, Fairy Godmother Nelly Katzman sparkled impish and Tinkerbelle-like, making the most of the stage in her catchy “It’s Impossible, It’s Possible” with Cinderella.
And the Carriage. Oh, the Carriage! The cleverly constructed and lighted “pumpkin” (by Kevin Ryan) absolutely stole the show in imagination and design.
Wise casting, effective sets, inventive costuming, toe-tapping music, spot-on direction — all made for a wonderfully balanced show.
…And then, the Beast
On a separate, equally commanding stage at the Oak Bluffs School, “Beauty and the Beast” reminded us that it’s what’s inside that counts. Veteran director Shelagh Smilie transformed her 50-plus actors, from second through eighth grade, into a cohesive musical, fit for any age.
“I wanted to play up kids’ natural storytelling talent,” Ms. Smilie said. “This production set is simple — a runway and performed in the round. So it’s really all about the kids.”
Working with music director Brian Weiland and costumer Kathryn Carson (lighting by Brad Austin), Ms. Smilie showcased extraordinary talent with ease.
The story? Everything you’d want from a maiden in distress — beauty, brains and the verve to find a way out of one hot mess.
Belle, magnificently portrayed by Belle Dinning, is a kind, devoted, daughter and a reader (nothing wrong with that role model, is there?). Dinning adeptly sings Belle’s personality to life in her debut, “Belle.”
But her tale actually begins with a backstory (through four versatile narrators): the thoughtless prince-turned-Beast, convincingly played by Oliver Carson, is spellbound and living in an enchanted castle until he learns the lesson of unconditional love.
Belle happens upon the castle while searching for her missing father, played devotedly by Wayman Harrison. In exchange for his release, she remains behind. The Beast eventually tames angry Belle and himself, with enchanted household help — the cohesive, sassy ensemble of Cogsworth the Clock (Tessa Whitaker), Lumière (James Robinson), Emma Caron as Babette, Danielle Hopkins as Mrs. Potts the teapot, Jasselle Wildanger as Chip, and Madame de la Grande Bouche (Shelby Regan). Their easy rhythm in song made for a suitably catchy “Be Our Guest” and their refrain soulful in “Beauty and the Beast.”
Cue angry boyfriend Gaston, played by Liam Weiland, and sidekick LeFou, a puckish Owen Engler. The duo poured their hearts into singing “Gaston,” and it showed. Eventually, Gaston fights the Beast, wounding him. Belle pledges true love; the Beast reverts to his princely self.
A full-scale finale complete with elementary-age human teacups tied it all together in a happy-ending bow with the all-cast song, “Home.”