Outsiders and insiders. It’s an old story, from fairy tales to the modern stage. Google Cinderella, an archetype for exclusion who eventually gains acceptance, and you’ll find thousands of variants across the globe dating back to China in the ninth century.
Today and Saturday, the departments of music and theater at Fort Lewis College will fold one Cinderella variation into a program about exclusion and inclusion. Titled “Diverse Voices,” the livestreamed program features a complete operetta and 13 scenes from Broadway musicals.
“The two parts of the program are totally different genres,” said Suzy DiSanto, adjunct instructor in the Department of Theatre. “Each part was supposed to happen several semesters ago. But COVID-19 interrupted those plans.”
Because both music and theater majors were involved in the programs and this year’s theme has been inclusion and diversity, DiSanto said the idea of combining the two halves to make a whole seemed like an inspiration.
“Since our departments will be combined soon, we decided to celebrate the merger as well,” DiSanto said.
Wesley Dunnagan, FLC assistant professor of music, had originally scheduled Pauline Viardot’s 1904 French operetta, “Cendrillon,” for an earlier time slot. It seemed a perfect fit for the joint program.
“The students will present ‘Cendrillon’ in an English translation by Rachel Harris,” Dunnagan said. “The style is certainly a challenge for our students, but Viardot wrote operettas to perform with her own students as part of their training.
“We’ll have a minimalist set, designed by Andrew Brackett, with Paula Millar on the piano, which will be on stage as Viardot would have done. Costuming, by Jane Gould, will be 17th-century French.”
Viardot, a composer and well-regarded singer in her time (1821-1910), reimagined the classic Cinderella story with a few character and plot shifts, not to mention a sparkling musical style. The work spins quickly through the story with an assortment of solos, duets, trios and full ensembles. Cast for seven singers, the FLC version will have one more, a surprise character from another work.
“Originally, Viardot suggested her performers might insert an aria of choice,” Dunnagan said. “So, I decided this was an opportunity to include soprano Bailey Barnes, an adjunct in our department. She will sing the doll aria from Offenbach’s ‘Tales of Hoffman.’”
For the Broadway program, DiSanto and her theater plus music students selected scenes from musicals like “Cabaret,” “Mean Girls” and the overwhelming favorite for diversity and inclusion, “Rent.”
“People identify in so many different ways now,” DiSanto said. “How do we celebrate this diversity which is so important to students?”
The Broadway section will open with the ensemble performing “It’s Time to Dance” from “The Prom.” A Bob Fosse-inspired dance will feature Abby Kerr and Vivien Bakowski in “Drag Blues,” from “Victor, Victoria.”
And to close the program, the ensemble will perform the big and celebratory finale “La Vie Boheme” from “Rent.”
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.