A royal romp: Troupe’s First Fridays show set Friday at Commons

Stephen Planalp, from left, as Gawain, Ashley Toler, as fairy godmother Lillynimble Merriweather, and Sharon Andrews, as Cinderella, rehearse a scene from the Mill Race Theatre Company's production of "Charming Princes" at Factory 12 Event Loft in Columbus, Ind., Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Mike Wolanin | The Republic

We all know that, for eons, Cinderella has been depicted as a desperate waif as delicate as the most easily bending flower in the breeze.

Well, forget that — at least for the local Mill Race Theatre Company’s presentation of the comic reboot “Charming Princes” at the Columbus Area Arts Council’s free, monthly First Fridays for Families series at 6 p.m. Friday at The Commons, 300 Washington St.

Here we have a Cinderella as a determined female with a sporty throwing arm as potent as her resolve. In this show, at one point, she nearly goes into a windup like a baseball pitcher and literally tosses her glass slipper at Prince Charming’s noggin when he is clueless about her wishes.

Local actress Sharon Andrews, who plays the now-powerful princess, chuckled about the over-the-top portrayal.

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“You kind of have to expect that there’s something with such a twist (to a classic) out there,” Andrews said.

And it comes with more than a few laughs, according to the five-member cast. Organizers are uncertain exactly how many people to expect, but when the Mill Race troupe performed a lighter, Shakespeare-for-youth work a year ago at First Fridays, about 250 people attended. And remember that, at last month’s First Fridays, Mario the Maker Magician attracted an estimated 400 people to The Commons.

The series, aimed especially at preschoolers to primary graders, has been among the most popular arts council programs. This marks its 32nd season of entertainment and education. And this show certainly fits that double-barreled purpose.

Andrews, as a successful local community leader and more, appreciates one of Cinderella’s most focused lines and right-on realizations: “I don’t want to be a princess if it means that I can’t be myself.”

Sorry, crowned prince. Sorry, Disney dreamers.

“… It at least opens a conversation (about females and roles and beliefs),” Andrews said. “It tells kids that it’s OK to question all that (they’re taught). And it lets them see that other people may have questions about that.

“And, if that’s the case, then now we can all start to talk about it.”

Play director Caitlin Smith doubles as program manager for the arts council.

“At the arts council, we love being able to showcase local talent,” Smith said. “So partnering with a group like the Mill Race Theatre Company was a no-brainer.”

The same goes for the troupe selecting a show that includes a female element.

“Personally, for myself, I think that empowering children to have a voice is very important,” said Smith, the mother of two young daughters. “With my own children, I try to let them know that I respect what they have to say, and that they have a mind. And even as young as at age, say 2 1/2, they can inform how we interact with them.

“And I think that the arts always have been a way of encouraging people to use their voice.”

Smith fully embraces a theme that sparkles maybe even more than Cinderella’s trademark kicks — “who you are is enough. “ “You need not pretend to be anyone else.”

The director mentioned that that message comes wrapped in all forms of comedy.

“I think that some of the most successful lessons you learn,” she said, “are those presented when you don’t even realize that you are learning them.”

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What: "Charming Princes," a comic play by Emily C.A. Snyder as part of the Columbus Area Arts Council’s long-running series First Fridays for Families. The local Mill Race Theatre Company is the performing troupe.

When: 6 p.m. Friday

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in downtown Columbus

Admission: Free

Cast/crew: Cinderella (Sharon Andrews); Lillynimble Merriweather (Ashley Toler); Prince Charming (Josh Hogan); Gawain (Stephen Planalp); Herald (James Kinsella). 

Director is Caitlin Smith. Stage manager: Kieradyn Wright. Costumes: Tamra Wright.

Information: artsincolumbus.org or the Facebook page for Mill Race Theatre Company.