ITW’s “Cinderella”

Annie Palches rehearses her role as Cinderella, with director Garrett Brown on the piano. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

In 1955, Warren Martin, a professor of music at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, wrote a musical comedy version of the fairytale Cinderella, as entertainment for an alumni weekend celebration. He wrote the elaborate piece, incorporating a variety of musical styles and clever lyrics in one week.

The composition proved immensely popular and was performed at the college by the vocal faculty members every three years, so that each class would get the opportunity to enjoy the witty and multi-faceted pseudo-operetta.

After Prof. Martin’s death, his estate released the piece to be performed by other theater groups, and now, for the second time, Vineyard audiences will be treated to this unique entertainment, highlighted by some exceptional singing talent.

The humor of the all-singing “True Story of Cinderella” relies as much on the clever lyrics and humorous characterizations as it does on the performers’ supposed serious take on the material. In the local version, the principal characters perform sans costumes or sets, dressed simply in black and accompanied solely by director Garrett Brown on piano.

Incorporating lush operatic numbers, jazzy show tune stylings and love songs that are pure Broadway, the musical tells the popular fairytale in a straightforward manner, but the comical lyrics and musical styles add some insight into the familiar characters’ personalities.

Maurice “Buck” Reidy, who sings the part of the King, notes, “The hardest thing is being straight with no emoting. All the emoting is in the voice. Garrett really stresses keeping a poker face. You have to be like a Buckingham Palace Guard.”

Mr. Brown adds that the script instructions emphasize maintaining deadpan expressions.

Mr. Brown was one of Warren Martin’s students at Westminster Choir College in the 1970s. He so enjoyed seeing “The True Story of Cinderella” performed while he was there that he purchased the script when it became available after its creator’s death in 1982.

Mr. Brown, who is the Island Community Chorus accompanist and the organist for the Union Chapel, uncovered the forgotten musical script ten years ago and decided to stage the show here on the Vineyard.

The first local performance, in 2001 at Grace Church, where Mr. Brown was then employed as organist, was a success, and since then, its director/musical director has wanted to produce it again. This weekend’s production sponsored by the Island Theatre Workshop, will feature many of the players from the earlier production and a few newcomers.

The show is enjoyable for the material as much as for the remarkable singing talent that Mr. Brown has recruited. A variety of vocalists, primarily sopranos and tenors, all get the opportunity to sing introductory solos and then participate in a number of duets and trios with the individuals engaging at times in virtuosic duelling, providing some of the most entertaining moments in the short piece. For those who are intimidated by opera, the production gives audience members the chance to enjoy some wonderful classical pieces with an easy to follow plot (led by narrator Lee Fierro) and clearly comprehensible lyrics. (Lyric sheets will also be provided). Many of the show-style tunes are extremely catchy as well.

Mr. Brown notes that the musical is very challenging, partly because of the continual changes from classical to jazz to show tunes, and because there are often combinations as the characters, each with their own signature style, interact. The director, who calls his former teacher Mr. Martin a genius, recalls the professor as a character who dressed so casually that he was often mistaken for a custodian.

Mr. Brown recalls that Mr. Martin would create theme music for each student that he would play each time the student entered the classroom. When a group of students arrived together, he would create a scene incorporating all of their themes.

“He was big on scenes.” says Mr. Brown. “He had that kind of humor and brilliance, and that’s reflected in the kind of music that he wrote.”

“The True Story of Cinderella,” a benefit for the Preservation Trust, 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11 and 12, Old Whaling Church, Edgartown. Admission is $10, plus a non-perishable item for the Island Food Pantry.