Lisa and Rowell Gorman remember well how much fun they had during Raleigh Little Theatre’s first production of “Cinderella” in 1984.
Lisa was Cinderella; Rowell was King Darling the Third, her Prince Charming’s father; and the show was a zany take on the fairy tale filled with musical numbers and slapstick humor.
“It was a treasure,” Lisa said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
But the then-newlyweds never expected the show would last beyond that first December. Or that they would be cast members again nearly three decades later, for the theater’s 30th annual production of the show.
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This time around, Lisa is in the ensemble, while Rowell will again play the lovable, bumbling king. They’ll even perform in front of the show’s original backdrop, which hasn’t been used for many years.
“We’ll be home again,” Lisa said.
Their return is just one element in a blend of classic and new that the theater hopes will delight the legions of fans who have made “Cinderella” a holiday tradition.
The show will feature perennial favorites such as a pair of evil stepsisters played by actors Tim Cherry and Dennis Poole and the rousing “Sneeze Polka” during the ball. But also look for more special effects, a new song and other twists.
This year’s performance is the first that won’t be directed by the theater’s late artistic director, Haskell Fitz-Simons, who died earlier this year. During his tenure as director, Fitz-Simons added a variety of unique songs, characters and dances to the show.
Co-directors Nancy and Rod Rich said that they want the show to capture Fitz-Simons’ vision even with their changes.
“We tried to retain Haskell’s spirit,” said Rich.
Both Nancy and Rod also have ties to the early years of the show. In 1985, she was assistant to the director, and he began a two-year run as King Darling. In the intervening years, they have co-directed many other productions at the theater and been regular audience members when “Cinderella” returned each December.
Nancy said that for this year’s show they’ve tried to re-imagine Cinderella with a bit more backbone than usual. They’re hoping young fans of the show will take the message to heart.
“We want those little girls to know they’re in charge,” she said.
Cherry and Poole, who have played Cinderella’s stepsisters Henrietta and Gertrude together since 1998, said the reactions of the girls and boys in the audience are among the highlights of the show each year.
In the lobby after each performance, children will crow to the actors that they’ve discovered the sisters are indeed men or scold them about their unkind treatment of Cinderella.
Plus, there’s always something new to discover in the material – a new way to read a line or a new movement guaranteed to get a laugh.
“It’s just hysterical,” Poole said. “I have a blast doing it.”