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Veteran actors bring villains to life in Prizery production

Sure, the princess and her handsome prince are the central focus, but no production of “Cinderella” can really succeed without the right women playing opposite the happy couple. 

Director Christopher Jones thought long and hard before making his choices for the roles of the wicked stepmother and stepsisters who will impede Cinderella’s happiness in The Prizery Summer Theatre Celebration production of “Cinderella” this June, and audience-goers won’t be disappointed with the end result of those deliberations. 

Tiernan Leigh Cody as the stepmother and Cat Wheelehan and Sarah Brackett as the stepsisters Joy and Portia bring just the right mix of talent, training and passion for theatre to bring these classic fairy tale archetypes to life in deliciously villainous fashion to their roles.

Cody brings a lifetime of preparation to the table as she creates the stepmother who serves as the central antagonist of this show. 

“I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, performing in my church and local talent shows [and] when I was 12, I started taking private voice lessons. For a couple of years I was being trained exclusively in opera, but I soon started getting involved in musical theatre. [Then] I started taking classes in dance, acting and musical styles.”

All of this training has only fueled her passion for performance, leading to her decision to make acting a career.

 “I am currently earning a BFA in Musical Theatre at Western Carolina University, where I am being trained in every aspect of the business,” she said.

Cody is already a seasoned veteran of theatre performance, having been in productions as varied as “Rent,” “Jane Eyre” and “Gypsy.”

 “Some of my favorite show and roles have been Jane in ‘Jane Eyre The Musical,’ Joanne in ‘Rent,’ Tessie Tura in ‘Gypsy,’ Mrs. Lovett in ‘Sweeney Todd,’ and most recently, Cindy Lou in ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes.”’

Cody is particularly excited about creating the role of the wicked stepmother. 

“I have always loved playing these kinds of crazy or evil characters. One of my favorite parts of playing these characters is working on finding the human side of them,” she said.

“It’s easy to decide that a character is evil and play them so they simply hate everything, but the meat comes in when you work to discover why they are that way, what happened in their past to make them become so horrid now.”

Of course, no role is without its challenges; for Cody, the most difficult aspect of this job will be the age discrepancy between herself and her character. 

“It’s hard to play that I’ve had that much life experience, when I’ve only actually had about half of it,” she said.

Prizery audiences will remember Cat Wheelehan from last year’s Summer Theatre Celebration; the talented thespian with the bright smile is thrilled to return for a second season with the summer company.

 “I wanted to come back because I love The Prizery and the SoBo and Halifax community. I made so many friends here and missed the town terribly. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” she said.

Wheelehan, like Cody, has been working in theatre for much of her life. 

“I started working professionally at The Riverside Dinner Theatre in my hometown of Fredericksburg when I was nine. My first show was ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’ I did 11 different shows there before I was 17, mostly children’s theatre pieces.”

Like Cody, Wheelehan intends to make acting a career choice. 

“I’m currently a rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond,” she said.

In addition to her roles last summer in “The Sound of Music” and “Seussical, the Musical!” she has been seen as Claudio and Lysander in gender-reversed staged readings of “Much Ado About Nothing” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” respectively, with The Firehouse Theatre Project, as Alice in “Henry V,” Andromache in “Troy Women” and Sandy in “Grease.”

For Wheelehan, playing a villain in a largely comedic show will be a chance to stretch her abilities and develop new aspects of her acting. 

“I don’t consider myself a particularly comedic actress, so roles like this in general always present a challenge for me as an actor,” she added. “Being funny is not something that I consider myself to be very good at. However, the text for the play is fantastic and already written to be very humorous, so my goal in working on this show is to just play, have fun, do the work, and trust the text.”

She considers herself to be in good company, though.

 “I’m just so excited to work with the rest of the evil family. I don’t think Chris could’ve done a better job of picking people to play these roles. Sarah Brackett and Tierney Cody are hilarious and ridiculously talented; it’s a treat to act beside them every day.”

Sarah Brackett agrees that one of the best parts of the job so far has been “getting to work alongside some wonderful performers.”

Recently graduated from Shorter University with a degree in musical theatre, Brackett is grateful to have trained “with some of the most talented professors from all over.” 

During her time at university, she performed roles in “She Loves Me” (llona), “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown” (Snoopy), “Trojan Woman” (Andromache)  and “Still Life With Iris” (Iris). 

Brackett is thrilled to be cast as a wicked stepsister, although she does find the part a challenging one thanks to the castmates she is so ready to praise.

“I am playing one of the evil stepsisters, and being evil isn’t easy for me especially towards Jocelyn our Cinderella. I catch myself smiling at her because she is just so darn sweet that you just can’t help but love her,” she said.

All three girls are delighted with the down-home feel and warm Southern welcome they have received from Halifax County locals.

 “I absolutely love South Boston. I love the small town feel of it, where everyone knows each other and is willing to help each other out. I’m very excited to explore the town and find all of the neat stores and restaurants,” Cody enthuses when asked how she likes living in South Boston.

“Myself and five other company members are staying at what we call the ‘Big House.’ This house has been quite an experience for all of us. First, we had no hot water; then, when we got the hot water, the power went out. When we asked the owner how we might fix it, we were told that our house was haunted.

“We’ve now all come to the conclusion that it isn’t really haunted, it’s just very old... Needless to say, it’s been a very exciting week at the ‘Big House.’

Wheelehan is equally thrilled with her summer home. 

“I am perfectly settled and couldn’t be happier. I’m living with the Coe family for the summer. I got to know them all last year, and when they found out I was coming back for another season, Mrs. Coe emailed me and extended the invitation. Also, I still remember where everything is in SoBo and Halifax; it’s almost like I never left.”

Although this is her first time in Halifax County, Brackett feels right at home as well.

 “’SoBo’ as many of us like to call it, reminds me a lot of my home town. Plus I have been overly blessed to live with the Haskett family (Mike, Ellen, Daniel and sweet Madelyn) while I am here. They are some of my favorite people now, such loving beautiful people.”

When asked about their goals for the show and what they want audience members to walk away with, the girls grow introspective and generous. 

“My goals in this show are the same as my goals for any other show I’ve done; make the character real, make the character my own original version of her, play the entire show to the best of my abilities every night and have fun while I do it,” Cody said.

Wheelehan’s goals are both personal and professionally oriented.

 “I’d just like to learn to trust myself with roles like this, and I’d also like to improve my voice work, both in terms of singing more classically written music and also with speaking in dialect in various parts of my range,” she said.

Brackett added, “My goal is to commit to the character and have fun. If I have fun, then I know the audience with have fun with me.”

All three hope that audiences get a lot out of attending “Cinderella.”

“In today’s world, it’s easy to grow up too fast, or to be dragged down by the pressure and the negativity of the ‘daily grind,”’ Wheelehan said.

“It’s easy to throw a good attitude out the window when things seem like they’re just not going to get any better. But, if there’s anything ‘Cinderella’ teaches us, it’s that dreams really can come true if we refuse to give up on them. I hope audience members walk out the door with lighter, happier hearts than they came in with.” 

“Magic,” Brackett said. “I pray that each person experiences some of the magic that we get to experience everyday on this stage.”

Cody summed up what is clearly a commonly shared sentiment, saying, “A big theme in our rehearsals has been finding the magic in every aspect of the show; good magic, bad magic, and how each character is affected by it.

“I hope that audiences, both young and old, will be captivated by the magic of this show, and even take a little bit of it with them when they leave the theatre,” she said.

 

The curtain rises beginning Thursday at 7:30 p.m., with additional shows on June 22, 23, 28, 29, 30 at 7:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. matinees on June 23, 24, 27, 30 and July 1.  

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.prizery.com or call 572-8339.