There are so many delightful distractions in Quad City Music Guild's Cinderella that, during Thursday night's preview performance, I kept getting lost in the scenery. And then the costumes. And then the vocals. And then the scenery... .
Before the show even begins, director and set designer Bill Marsoun's magical vision is evident in a grove of trees visible on stage right in front of the curtains. The foliage is a combination of realistic-looking fauna with hints of cartoonish shapes and bright colors. And then the classic fairytale of Cinderella meeting her prince begins, with the enslaved girl's fairy godmother stepping on stage. Played by Sheri Brown, giving one of the most refreshingly unselfconscious portrayals I've yet seen from her, she's dressed in the first of many impressively designed and well-tailored costumes created by Cathy Marsoun. What unfolds after that first scene is a fanciful staging of the musical work of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.
Music director Ben Holmes has done well in refining the cast's harmonies and guiding the singers to note-for-note perfection, and director Marsoun creates an overall sense of wonder and fairytale happiness, as if the world in which these characters inhabit has never known evil. Sure, some of the people are mean, but there's a bit of humor to their taunting that softens the edges of their cruelty. Meanwhile, the cast seems unable to to anything but smile throughout the performance, enhancing the blithe spirit of the piece.
Each actor is well-suited for their roles: from Jamie Bauschka's powerhouse of a stepmother to Carol Neuleib's "she wears the pants" Queen and John Weigandt's fumbling King; from James Pepper's enchanting and well-sung Prince to Melissa Flowers' perpetually hopeful Cinderella and the adorably animated children playing the mice. But none are more delightful than Katie Casey and Maureen Malley's dimwitted and far-less-than-demure stepsisters; Casey, especially, makes remarkable use of exaggerated facial expressions and arm gestures mixed with an almost grating vocal tone. If the rest of the cast were not as good as it is, I would've wished the musical were centered on Casey and Malley, as they're so much fun to watch.
Still, despite such well-crafted performances, I repeatedly got lost in Marsoun's sets, one right after another. There's the village, painted on a curtain, and offering a somewhat whimsical perspective. And then there's the gorgeous stained-glass window in the King and Queen's room, which pulled my focus far more than it should have, with its intricate ship-at-sea patterns and beautiful colors. (It competes with some of Cathy Marsoun's most intricate designs: the King and Queen's royal clothing, made with ravishing, shimmering, red and white material.) And then there's Cinderella's house, with fantastical curlicues of pumpkin vines delineating the frames of the walls and winding their way to the window and doors. This set is just slightly more stunning than the ballroom in which Cinderella encounters her prince, with similar vines patterned on the pillars, stairs, and around the window, revealing a fascinating fairy tale kingdom.
Marsoun also works some stage magic to bring the fairy godmother's spells to life, the most amazing of which finds a pumpkin seeming to actually grow into a carriage. It's not a quick movement, but a fluid, slow expansion of a smallish gourd into a vehicle, giving the effect more of an air of wonder.
There are a few problems in Cinderella, though. For me, the second act falls a bit flat. Part of that is due to the script, but some of it is also due to missed moments of magic; in particular, the love-at-first-sight moment for the musical's central couple is a bit dull. Whether due to a missed cue or faulty design, the revelers at the Prince's ball, on Thursday, already stopped moving when Cinderella entered - rather than stopping at the sight of her - which diminished the effect of her entrance. (It also didn't help that the separate spotlights shining on Cinderella and Prince hit them a little late.)
There's also the issue that consistently plagues Music Guild performances, in that the theatre's sound system distorts the actors' voices, somehow amplifying and muffling their speech at the same time. And the pit orchestra's pitch problems are a distraction, as some of the players are painfully off-key at times, distorting the scores harmonies. Still, there are so many other wonderful things to see and hear in Marsoun's impressive Cinderella that my attention was easily distracted from such issues.
For tickets and information, call (309)762-6610 or visit QCMusicGuild.com.