A Magical EveningJul 8th, 2013 | By admin | Category: Top Story
What began as a regular Friday became magical before the evening was out. I had called to speak to Chris Haines from the Meraux Foundation and he insisted that I see the play “Cinderella” performed by the Performing Arts Academy of St. Bernard. I figured I would just go and take some photos for the paper. I called Charles Cassar, whom I thought would be directing the evening and arranged a short backstage photo session— still, not really knowing the extent of excitement I was to encounter.
I entered the back door of the auditorium into what seemed to be the costume shop area. It was as if a scene of Christmas time with all the elves working quickly had come to life. Rather than disturb the ladies feverishly working, I found my way to the makeup area— hair, wigs, and makeup, a constant motion. I decided I better find another room or I might end up looking a bit different. Backstage, that was my thought and that is where I found the characters waiting and dressed— It would be a few short minutes before show time.
I went into the theater to find my friend and have a seat. It was the first time I had seen the theater prepared for a play. Looking down I realized there was an orchestra pit and it was full. I knew something great was going to happen. The lights dimmed, the music began and the curtain rose. The spectacle began, the beautiful set came alive with actors. I watched and listened in awe. There was no doubt, my mind would be transformed into the world of “Cinderella.”
Let me try to describe the different levels of the performance.
Let’s begin with the stage: the sets were real, the colors and lighting were magnificent, and the seating was perfect. The music and the audio from the actors could not have been better. In terms of the senses, it was easy to feel as if you were part of this staged reality.
As the performance unfolded and you became aware of each actor in the role they were playing, it was genuine. The period costumes and makeup were second to none— the ladies in costume deserve an applause.
The play was extremely well cast and to my surprise I found out the play was comprised of over 76 cast members. Actually, there were two casts— a purple cast and a blue cast— each having different lead actors. The spoken, as well as sung parts, were clear as a bell. The movement was well choreographed. One of the scenes seemed to have had fifty actors singing and moving all at one time.
The sets and lighting were not only beautiful and realistic but candy to the eyes. The change of sets was flawless. Even though I had seen flying in a show in Las Vegas, I was amazed with the flying fairy godmother. Fred Hébert and his technical crew dazzled us in a most modern fashion.
With all the correct stage attributes, the young actors portrayed their characters in a most real fashion. You could see the expressions of emotion on each character whether it was laughter, seriousness, joy, and in Cinderella’s case, somewhat sorrowful.
I am not normally a theatergoer but I have seen my share of plays. It would take a jet ride to New York to rival the performance here in St. Bernard.
Perfection was the description of the whole evening.
How did this all come about? When did it begin and what will be its future?
Let’s begin acknowledging the visionary Charles Cassar, who in 2002 created the concept of the Performing Arts Academy. His approach seemed holistic, all of the components of real theater would be ingredients of the summer program.
An observation, the program seems to develop the theatrical talents but at the same time focuses on the development of each individual participant, character building.
Cassar may have used his own family as the building blocks for this great success. His wife, Pam heads up costume design and has an army of ladies to assist her. Daughters Arianna, who directed “Cinderella,” and Annelise, who was assistant director and music director, both have had successful careers but share their talent with the enthusiastic students. Together the Cassars conduct a symphony of talent.
Many thanks go to the volunteers— without them the great production would not be. The St. Bernard school system, too, has its responsibility in providing great students for the program. The financial assistance from generous people in the parish helped to underwrite this endeavor. The vision of the St. Bernard Parish School Board will ensure the future of the cultural arts.
The mother of one of the actors told me she could sense Arlene Meraux looking down from heaven and finding joy in her passion to support the cultural development of young children.
Now, that I have told you all these great things about the play I saw Friday night, I want to let you know, tonight, July 7, the play will once again be performed at Chalmette Cultural Arts Center. This is truly a family event; children to older adults will all enjoy this magnificent show. I hope we will see sellout crowds again.
A word from the director Arianna Cassar: “This story is classical; the lessons, more poignant; the dreams, essential; and the magic exceptional! I hope you enjoy Cinderella as much as we have enjoyed putting the performance together and I wish you all the best in your pursuits on and off stage.”
Again thanks to Charles, Pam, Arianna, Annalise, Fred, Doris, Rita, Dot, Joe, Cheryl, Albert, so many to mention, and all the great people who worked so hard for this success. Everyone please take a bow.
I have no doubt St. Bernard Parish has a bright shining cosmos full of magic on Judge Perez Drive at Chalmette High. In time the graduates of this great school system will become the next generation to continue moving the parish forward.
Tickets will also be on sale at the Chalmette Cultural Arts Center’s box office from 4 to 6 p.