MOORHEAD — In his 30th year directing the mainstage musical at Trollwood Performing Arts School, Michael Walling has done everything from Broadway classics like “Oklahoma” and “Hello Dolly” to adaptations of Disney animated movies like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Shrek” to brand new musicals like “Freaky Friday” and “Legally Blonde.”
Still, there was one show that had eluded him for years.
“This is one I’ve been waiting for. In 40 years, we never did ‘Cinderella,’” Walling says.
The show opens Wednesday, July 14, and runs through Saturday, July 17, repeating that Wednesday to Saturday schedule through the month. Opening night is already sold out.
While the story of Cinderella is well known, finding the right version is like, well, finding the woman who wears the glass slipper.
There’s the 1950 animated Disney version. There’s the 1957 Rodgers and Hammerstein made-for-TV musical starring Julie Andrews. There’s the 1997 made-for-TV version starring Brandy in the title role and Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother.
Ultimately, Walling settled on a 2013 Broadway update of the Rodgers and Hammerstein version that tweaked the story and added some numbers.
“It’s the most progressive in terms of today’s message of equality,” Walling says.
While today’s audience may cringe at a down-on-her-luck woman waiting for Prince Charming to come along and make her a princess, Walling says the title character is now a strong woman who makes her own choices.
“It’s empowering for young women. The twist is encouraging you to take control of your own destiny,” he says.
McKenna Brye grew up watching the animated Disney movie, but since getting the lead role in 2020, she’s been watching all of the musical versions. She was ready to play the part last year, but concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic put last summer’s production on pause. When Trollwood announced the show would play this year, the young actress was excited to get another shot at the glass slipper.
“I was so grateful to come back,” she says, sitting in front of the stage.
This will be Brye’s first musical since co-starring in 2019’s “Freaky Friday,” in which she plays the teenage daughter and then her mother.
Since then, the actress has gone on to Oklahoma City University, studying musical theater and vocal performance.
She says having an extra year in which she worked on her craft at college only benefits her performance.
“I feel a lot more confidence in myself and my skills,” she says.
Being back at Trollwood reminded her that being back on the stage performing is a true joy. In college most of the time she spent on stage was working on technical aspects of the show.
She’s still learning and working on her skills, particularly enjoying the ball scene and the waltz.
“It's a whole new side of Cinderella,” she says.
Walling adds that the character’s real beauty emerges from inside, not just her physical appearance.
“There’s a lot of magic in this show, transformational magic,” he says.
The musical has transformed since 1957. Subsequent productions have removed songs from the original score and added works from other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
“There's Music in You,” originally written for "Main Street to Broadway,” was forgotten for decades until Whitney Houston gave it a new voice in 1997.
“Loneliness of Evening” and “Now is the Time” had been cut from “South Pacific” and “Me, Who am I?” dropped from “Me & Juliet.”
And yes, there’s even “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from the 1950 animated version.
“There’s a lot of contemporary tempos which we take advantage of,” Walling says. “People want things to move quickly in the last decade. Musicals move quickly, this one in particular.”
This is Walling’s first show since the pandemic shut down productions, but he’s just as excited to see a full house as he is to finally produce “Cinderella.”
“I’m excited for people to be back under the stars,” he says.