Like most live events planned in 2020, GREAT Theatre's production of "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" was canceled.
But perhaps by happenstance — or a little fairy-tale magic — the revived production is bringing the show to life in ways it couldn't have if the show went on as planned last year.
Instead of being staged inside the Paramount Theatre like most of GREAT Theatre's musicals, the production is happening outside at the new Ledge Amphitheater in Waite Park.
"It's just so magical," said Dennis Whipple, executive director of the Waite Park-based theater company. "It was the perfect show to do outdoors because it happens in a fairy-tale world."
The show runs Thursday through Saturday with a Sunday show as needed if inclement weather cancels an earlier show. It will be live-streamed, too. It begins at 8 p.m. so it can get dark enough for the special effects to really sparkle, Whipple said.
"We're competing with nature," he said. "This is a beautiful venue where you're looking at these quarries and trees and all the rocks. We have a sunset during our show and then all the stars come out."
The show features about three dozen actors, as well as a local crew of about 30 and a crew of technicians out of the Twin Cities that will work the $100,000 worth of rented rigging to hold up the set and light and sound equipment.
The company also has to bring in its own lighting, surround sound and assisted listening devices to help tell the story on a stage that is four times larger than the Paramount stage.
"Everything just has to quadruple in size from your sets to your costumes to your acting. How we tell the story just has to get much bigger to be projected all the way to the back," Whipple said, noting that it takes at least 15 seconds just to walk across the stage. "You have to start your blocking a good 10 seconds prior to where you need to be."
The musical was originally presented on TV in 1957 starring Julie Andrews and was remade in 1997 with Brandy and Whitney Houston.
"It's not super well known as a stage musical," Whipple said. "It's known as a TV musical. But it's Rodgers and Hammerstein, who wrote 'Oklahoma!' and 'South Pacific,' so it's that big, huge, beautiful music and storytelling."
Maria Schneider, a senior at College of St. Benedict, plays the titular role.
"This is the biggest crowd I'll have performed in front of so that's really nerve-racking. But I'm also really, really excited because of that," she said.
Schneider has starred in about a dozen musicals — her first role was in a children's theater production of "Cinderella" when she was in fifth grade.
Audiences should not expect Disney's version of the story, Schneider said.
"It is really funny at a lot of times, which I think is kind of unexpected because you think it's a fairy tale. And it is a fairy tale but it's a lot more realistic," she said. "Cinderella is more than just a sad girl that cleans for her family and the prince is more than just like some hot guy that everyone wants to date.
"I mean, they are those things," she continued, "but they are so much more, too. That's what is really cool about the show — it kind of fleshes the characters out more."
GREAT Theatre's schedule this year features five Broadway shows, including "Little Shop of Horrors," "The Sound of Music," "Roald Dahl's Matilda" and "Mamma Mia!"
As a community theater, about a third of the actors in the upcoming show are new to GREAT Theatre, one-third are frequent cast members and one-third are returning after some years off — such as actors who did a show as a kid and now they're in college and can be in this show because it's during the summer.
"What is so different about community theater is we want our cast to look like and be the community. We want a great variety," Whipple said. "We always want new people and returning people. We want all ages, all cultures, all abilities. That's what our audiences just love. They love seeing their teacher or their neighbor or their friend on stage."
Whipple said the city of Waite Park has committed to hosting a GREAT Theatre production at the amphitheater every July.
"Our goal is to make it an annual event for families in the summer. Also, it brings in a lot of tourism. A lot of people will travel to the area for this type of outdoor theater experience," Whipple said. "There are people who love theater and people who love the outdoors. And sometimes the outdoor people will show up at theater outdoors. It's a different experience — it's not sitting in a dark theater. You're still a part of Minnesota summer. We're hoping to build that audience up."
Tickets are general admission and are available online and at the door.