From left, Taylor Koski (fairy godmother), Karen Ludwig (queen), Nathan Morgan (staging director), Nicholas Conroy (king), and Megan Ludwig (Cinderella) pose for a shot at their Royal Tea Party. (Courtesy photo)

Superior Arts Youth Theater’s production of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” is at Kaufman Auditorium this weekend only and is well worth a ticket. SAYT has a long history of producing fine quality youth productions of Broadway shows, and this production definitely follows in that tradition. Managing Director Jalina McClain and Artistic Director David Dagenais had big shoes to fill when Nikke Soni (Nason) moved on and I must say that the program is in good hands. They are tackling big productions with the talented kids in the area and producing very entertaining theater as well as training youngsters in the technical and backstage skills needed to make successful theater happen. Casts of 50, 60, sometimes up to a hundred youths could be a nightmare to some directors, but SAYT has a great program that this town should be proud of and support as fully as possible.

We all know the story of Cinderella, the put-upon and overworked step sister. Her stepmother and two stepsisters rely on her to do everything and berate her for being lazy (as she deftly manages to clean, cook, serve, and remain cheerful). When the Queen throws a ball so that her son can find a bride, the stepmother and the sisters shop and primp and prepare and throw it all in Cinderella’s face, making her stay home to tend to the chores. Cinderella’s wish to attend are granted by her fairy godmother, she captivates the Prince, rushes off leaving only a shoe, and the Prince searches the kingdom to find his newfound love.

When the first familiar strains of the overture start to rise from the pit you know there is magic in the air. Matt Mitchell has assembled a fine group of very talented musicians and they sound grseat. The orchestra underscores the action onstage rather than overpowering it and is a strong contributor to the quality of the production.

Cinderella is played by Megan Ludwig. She is adorable in the role, Cinderella’s charm and unbreakable spirit flowing through her and out into the audience. Megan’s voice is lovely and strong. Ideal for the role. She is clearly very comfortable onstage and the audience wants to go along for the ride. A nice performance.

Prince Charming is played capably by Kees Gray, again strong of voice and tone. He does his best to show his initial disdain for the very idea of the ball and his delight when Cinderella appears and steals his heart.

Karen Ludwig is great in her role as the Queen. Megan’s twin sister, she also possesses onstage charm and a fantastic voice and uses them well in this performance. Her husband, the King, is portrayed by Nick Conroy. A fun performance in a well written role. The King is more concerned about the cost of the affair than the result, and Nick does a good job playing the role.

Catilin Palomaki is great (and scary) fun as the Stepmother. Another strong voice in the cast, she definitely controls every nuance of what goes on under her roof. Her daughters, Portia and Joy, are played by Amanda Diddams and Raquel Green and are snobby and bratty toward Cinderella as well as having top flight voices of their own. Taylor Koski’s fine voice rounds out the cast as the Fairy Godmother.

The ensemble of kids surrounding the principals does a great job. Again, to some (me included), trying to get 40 or more kids to do anything together is akin to herding cats, but Dave Dagenais and his staging director Nathan Morgan have done a fine job getting “the cats” to perform. Of special note is the choreography by Jill Grundstrom. The dances are surprisingly complex appearing for performers of any age, let alone kids and the cast looks great performing them.

The costume design by Suzanne Shabazi captures the fairy tale look of the show. She and her crew have done amazing things fitting this large cast in formalwear, mouse costumes, horse costumes, common folk outfits, and the magical dress when Cinderella transforms from scullery drudge to princess. Countless hours went into this and it shows onstage. Aiding the magic is the scenic design by Steve McClain. Kaufman can be a difficult place to design for — a lovely theater with zero space in the wings and no real backstage — but Mr. McClain has done a great job utilizing the limited space to its fullest. Add beautiful drops and it is a fairy tale setting. Lighting design by Kim Hemegee is fanciful and fun and also contributes to the effectiveness of the onstage magic. Mixing the sounds of the orchestra with so many different performers on microphones is a daunting task as well, and Dan Zini and his wife Traci had done a very good job of delivering. Emily Kinne is the production stage manager with Aubrey Wolck as the stage manager. They have done a fine job with the 20 kids working behind the scenes to make the show flow smoothly and the scene changes swift. Stage managers are the unsung heroes of most shows. They have done a great job with a very young crew.

All in all, a very entertaining show that is family friendly, familiar, and full of fairy tale whimsy. SAYT shows typically sell out, so make sure to get your tickets from NMU EZ Tickets now. Online at www.nmu.edu/tickets, by calling 906-227-1032, or by visiting any NMU EZ Tickets outlet.

Performances are at 7 p.m. today and Saturday and at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Show your appreciation for the arts and your support of youth activities by going to this very enjoyable production. If you are a regular attendee of SAYT you will be glad to see the traditions started by Nikke are well-honored. If this is your first youth production, you will be surprised at just how many talented kids there are in the community and how professional they can be.

Either way, go.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Martyn Martello is a local director and actor.