Alisha Armstrong, who plays Cinderella, and the village people rehearse days before the weekend’s performance at The Nolan Center on Dec. 7, 2023. (Photo by Colette Czarnecki/KSTK)

The Wrangell Alaska Community Theater has a few surprises in store for audiences this weekend. The musical Cinderella will be performed on Saturday and Sunday, but it’s not the typical Disney story you might be used to.

Three days before Cinderella sings and dances on stage, the cast is trying to perfect lines and choreography at a dress rehearsal.

“You were gonna go to the palace in that funky old thing,” one of Cinderella’s step sisters said while another step sister uncontrollably laughed and snorted.

The familiar story follows the same timeline, where Cinderella is bullied by her three step sisters, befriended by mice and visited by her fairy godmother. Pumpkins are still involved as well.

But this Rodgers and Hammerstein’s production brings a whole lot of sparkle and energetic humor on and off the stage.

Audience members might be surprised that Cinderella, who is played by Alisha Armstrong, claims she never had professional training on how to sing. She says that she always wanted to be in theatre and it’s finally the chance to do it.

“Oh Cinderella, one thing, it’s hugely important. You must be home before the clock strikes 12,” the Fairy Godmother said.

Cinderella didn’t like the sound of that order.

“Before midnight? But every maiden is gonna be late,” Cinderella said.

Shortly after this scene, intermission happens and I get a chance to talk with some of the cast and the director. Haley Reeves says she’s new to directing.

Hailey Reeves: I had never directed a show before and then I did the Sound of Music and I was Mother Abbess and I kind of saw how the directing was going. I was like, ‘Oh, I think I could do this.’ So then I was like, ‘Hey, if you’re up for it, I’d love to direct a show.’ And they were down.

Colette Czarnecki: I saw on your flyer or on your FaceBook it says the enchanted version. Will you tell me about that?

Hailey Reeves: Yeah, we’ve been putting enchanted version because we wanted people to know that it’s not like Disney’s Cinderella. The story is obviously the same. The enchanted version has more humor in it. It’s a bit more whimsical. It definitely gives you more opportunity to, I’m trying to think of what the right word is, improvise. So we have a lot of funny people in the show. And they’ve improvised some lines that are great.

Colette Czarnecki: How many characters are there?

Hailey Reeves: Oh, gosh, um, whoa. So ensemble wise and maidens we probably have at least 25 I would say. And then as far as like leads, it’s got to be like, eight to 10 maybe 12. It’s a pretty big cast, though.

Colette Czarnecki: What inspired you to do Cinderella?

Hailey Reeves: I actually played the fairy godmother. When we did it, it’s been 10 years, a little over. I didn’t realize it’s been that long. But we love the show. I love the show then and I was like, hey, that’s what I’m comfortable with and we could bring it here. Put our own flair on it. And it’s been great.

Colette Czarnecki: How long have you been practicing?

Hailey Reeves: I was just thinking about this today. I think we started in October. We had auditions, though I believe in the end of September. And then we started getting rehearsals going in October and November. I say the same every time, the biggest struggle is getting everybody here at one time. We actually have yet to have a rehearsal that we’ve had everybody there.

Colette Czarnecki: What can you tell people who want to see it? What are they to expect?

Hailey Reeves: They should expect a lot of glitter and that does include some loud sound, so be prepared for that. They should expect humor, they should expect great singing. They’ve all been practicing for a long time and it’s really fun. Good energy, fun costumes…

During rehearsal, she juggles a lot and pays attention to every second and every movement, alongside her associate stage manager.

Cinderella’s director Hailey Reeves and stage manager Bonnie Ritchie critique the cast after the first act of Cinderella’s rehearsal three days before this weekend’s performance on Wed., Dec. 7, 2023. (Photo by Colette Czarnecki/KSTK)

Bonnie Ritchie: What is my title? (Assistant director/stage manager?) I am Bonnie Ritchie…Miss Bonnie Ritchie.

Colette Czarnecki: What’s your favorite part about this?

Bonnie Ritchie: My favorite part is seeing all the talent in the community come out. The diverse talent that is here that, you know, has been hiding. That is the most exciting part for sure.

The cast consists of a variety of ages, from children to adults, who play animals, village people and stagehands.

I catch up with the Fairy Godmother, Tyla Nelson, and the cruel Stepmother, Nicole Hammer, who are taking a break.

Colette Czarnecki: Who are you in both real life and now?

Tyla Nelson: I’m Tyla Nelson and I play the Fairy Godmother.

Nicole Hammer: I’m Nicole hammer and I’m the Stepmother.

Colette Czarnecki: What do you love about this?

Tyla Nelson: Oh it’s the music for me. Yeah, I I love my song. How about you, Nicole?

Nicole Hammer: I love getting to be mean. It’s my favorite part.

Tyla Nelson: She is really good at being mean.

Nicole Hammer: Yeah I love going (she makes a roar kind of sound). It makes me so happy.

The two women laugh.

Nicole Hammer: And being with all my friends.

The two show that sometimes friendships in reality are possible even when they will never be friends on stage in this folktale.

The community can see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at The Nolan Center on Saturday at 2pm and 7pm and Sunday at 4pm. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased before the show dates at The Nolan Center or at the door.