Most little girls dream about Cinderella at some point in their make-believe play. But even when Abigail Wilhite played a clock elf in the Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s Cinderella production when she was 9, she never imagined she would one day play the rags-to-riches girl in the classic fairy tale.
Wilhite, now nearly 18, will dance the title role opposite guest professional Damien Highfield, who hails from GroundWorks DanceTheater in Cleveland, in this weekend’s Ballet Theatre of Ohio production of Cinderella.
“I remember being onstage and thinking the set was drop-dead gorgeous,’’ Wilhite, a Tallmadge High School senior, said of her earliest memory on the Cinderella stage.
“I was one of those little kids who watched the Disney movie every day, like twice a day,’’ Wilhite said. “I never ever thought I would be Cinderella. To me, Cinderella was just out of my realm.’’
Ballet Theatre of Ohio will reprise its Cinderella ballet, choreographed by BTO artistic director Christine Meneer, for the sixth time with performances at the Akron Civic Theatre at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Ticket prices range from $15 to $30. Call 330-253-2488 or 800-745-3000.
Wilhite said the vibrant score by Prokofiev is her favorite ballet music of all. This is the third time she’s performed in the company’s Cinderella, having played a member of the court in 2008.
The young dancer already saw a dream come true last holiday season, when she played the Snow Queen opposite Highfield for one weekend of BTO’s The Nutcracker. Wilhite, 17, has been a member of the company for eight years and has studied with Meneer since she was 3.
Wilhite, who worked very hard over the years to build up to her Cinderella role, said she cried when the cast list came out in February. She dances entirely en pointe and must stay in character for the whole ballet.
“It’s taking a lot of effort and dedication to put myself into the character of Cinderella,’’ the dancer confided. “She’s more mature than I thought she was. It’s hard to be 17 and be onstage and have so much maturity.’’
That includes being able to portray a young woman falling in love onstage, making that come across as real to more than the people in the first few rows.
“It takes a lot of brain power,’’ said Wilhite, who will study biomedical engineering at the University of Akron in the fall.
She said Highfield has been a fabulous partner: “Because I’m so young and he’s so experienced in dancing and with partnering, when it comes to us doing our pas de deux [at the ball], he guides me through every step. … He’s an amazing partner.’’
BTO has been a family affair for Wilhite, whose older sister, Madalyn, danced with the company, and whose mother, Deborah, has been a longtime seamstress. The teen said many of her classmates as well as her grandparents from Texas, Carl and Merca Wren, will come see her dance as Cinderella.
Last Friday, as Wilhite was heading into tech week, she was focused on keeping her stamina up and pleasing Meneer: “I want to make her happy. I want to make everything perfect.”
Meneer is well known for creating beautiful fantasy worlds in her ballets, and this one will feature everything from Cinderella’s sparkly pink gown to a wondrous backdrop of stars. The Fairy Godmother, played by Sarah Ruesch, also will work some stage magic with her wand.
Other guest artists will be Meneer’s daughter Kelly Meneer as the Stepmother, Kim Sulek and Jennifer Black as the Ugly Stepsisters and Brian Murphy as the Dance Master. Company members Hannah Smolinski, Ali LeBay, Amy Ott and Kit Smart will play fairies.
The family-friendly affair will include an interactive event that allows children to be royal guests, filling their dance card and learning to waltz in the upper Salon. Guests also will get a peek into Cinderella’s closet. After the show, lead characters will sign autographs.
ETC lands star emcee
ETC show choirs will celebrate the organization’s 35th anniversary with some star power at its Spring Gala performance Sunday, which will be emceed by Broadway star Lisa Howard, a Firestone High School graduate and ETC alumna.
Howard, who sang and danced with ETC from 1988 to 1993, will also do a special performance at the event, which will be at 3 p.m. at Cuyahoga Falls High School. Reserved ticket prices, including an online fee, are $15 for adults or $10 for senior citizens and children under 10. General admission is $10. Purchase tickets at http://seatyourself.biz/etc.
Tickets also will be sold at the door. A reception will follow at the Cuyahoga Falls Natatorium.
Howard has appeared in Broadway’s Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, 9 to 5, South Pacific and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, for which she won a Drama Desk Award for best ensemble performance. She also recently appeared as Siobhan in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 movie.
On Saturday, Howard plans to visit ETC’s New Generation, Main Street Singers and All Americans show choirs at their rehearsals to chat and give advice about a career on Broadway.
ETC’s All Americans have brought home three grand championship awards this season — a first for the organization — from competitions in Cuyahoga Falls and Grove City.
Local Tony nominee
Congratulations to 1999 Copley High School grad Carrie Coon, who was nominated for a best featured actress Tony Award for her role as the naïve Honey in the Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The nominees, announced Tuesday morning, also include her co-stars, Tracy Letts and Amy Morton, as famously dysfunctional couple George and Martha. They were nominated for best actor and best actress in a play. The production was nominated for best revival of a play and best direction, by Pam MacKinnon.
Copley native Coon, who was inducted into the high school’s sports hall of fame in 2009, was a standout in soccer and track. Here’s who she’s up against: Shalita Grant, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike; Judith Ivey, The Heiress; Judith Light, The Assembled Parties; and Condola Rashad, The Trip to Bountiful.
The 67th Annual Tony Awards will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. June 9 on CBS.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.