Bibbity bobbity boo
A dress rehearsal of the Tahoe Players’ Cinderella has just ended, and director Monica Folio is giving notes to her cast. But, surrounded by more than 100 actors, an orchestra and a horse, Folio can hardly be heard. “When my lips are moving, yours are not!” she yells. The stage grows quiet.
It’s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s version of Cinderella, coming to the Reno Hilton on Dec. 12. Folio, a retired professional dancer, is the executive director of the Tahoe Players, the children’s production company she and her husband, Sam, formed 14 years ago.
Because of their professional background, Folio has all players sign contracts–even the 8-year-olds. Students must maintain at least a C average in school, they must be good role models in the community, and they can’t miss more than three rehearsals, or they’re out. Even though she runs a tight ship, she wants everyone to get a shot at performing. She double casts all her shows, and each cast usually contains more than 100 actors.
The Reno Hilton’s huge stage, one of the world’s largest, is perfect for this show. Cinderella uses the full stage and capitalizes on the four additional side stages as well. The show is visually impressive. During Cinderella’s midnight run through a rainstorm, in which she loses her glass slipper, a rain curtain drops from the ceiling and floods the stage. Backdrops include hand-painted Italian silks, once used by the Nevada Opera. And Cinderella’s pumpkin-carriage is drawn by a real horse, Star, a tamed mustang from Virginia City.
The music also makes this show special. The Tahoe Players always use live music, both in performances and rehearsals. The Folios are passionate about showcasing live musicians. Cinderella features the John Shipley Orchestra, whose saxophone player was playing with Dizzy Gillespie at age 16. Most of music in Cinderella is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s, plus there’s a hip-hop number added for kicks.
All primary cast members are students, ranging in age from 8 to 65. Cinderella is played by Whitney Hendricks, a 16-year-old senior at I Can Do Anything (ICDA) Charter High School, and Nikki Isbell, a 17-year-old senior at North Tahoe High. Seventeen-year-old Will Austin of North Tahoe High, and Bishop Manogue’s Matthew Lawrence, 17, play Prince Charming. Even the Wicked Stepmother is played by a 24 year old (Brandi Shafer) and a 21 year old (Kelly Wyatt). And of course, there are 37 little mice, 29 bluebirds, and about 50 townspeople. Folio says that the show is not only a good experience for the kids involved, but it’s a good one for students who come to see it. The Tahoe Players invite school groups to attend, and these performances usually host more than 1,000 students each.
“We try to select shows that children can learn something from,” says Folio. “I know a lot of the teachers right now are teaching Rodgers and Hammerstein songs so the children that come to the shows usually know all the music.”
But even though the script and music are classics, and the performers are treated as professionals, the show never loses its childhood edge. As Cinderella and Prince Charming (Nikki Isbell and Will Austin) rehearse their romantic kiss, Isbell dissolves into giggles. "My microphone’s in the way!" she laughs, and then kisses her prince as she blushes.