Lewiston Civic Theatre: Conjuring a magical performance

Guest director brings professional experience to production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 'Cinderella'

This evil stepmother might just haunt your dreams.

Lewiston Civic Theatre guest director Scott Thompson, harking back 30 years to his first production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” forgoes the “easygoing approach” of the original TV special and brings some bite to the proceedings opening Saturday, June 11,* at the old Lewiston High School auditorium on Normal Hill.

“I like dramatic storytelling, even if it’s perceived as a simple children’s story,” said Thompson, who arrived in Lewiston several weeks ago from Los Angeles to direct the play. “I thought, particularly in the role of the stepmother, that the stakes needed to be raised a bit higher.”

His inspiration comes from a story his dad told him, about being 8 years old and seeing “The Wizard of Oz” in the movie theater. He and a friend had to walk home, about half a mile, in the dark, “and all that he could carry with him was that green face (of the Wicked Witch of the West) jumping out at him,” Thompson said.

Dorothy’s peril, driven home by Judy Garland’s “brilliant acting,” was real for those kids, Thompson said.

“And so our stepmother, and the whole relationship with Cinderella, is pretty terrifying and rough,” he said. “She’s not just sort of mean. I mean, Cinderella’s in hot water, and you don’t know whether she’s going to survive.”

That’s not to say the play isn’t for kids, Thompson said, noting the production has “something for everybody.”

Some of the “very arch humor” might be lost on young children, but while “the adults won’t be bored,” kids will “love the magic and everything else.”

Directing here for the first time, Thompson said he immediately was impressed by the people he’s working with.

“I have seen other theaters across the country do the exact opposite of what (the theater’s executive director) Nancy (McIntosh) has done here,” he said. “They’re doing a two-person show and, you know, spending no money, and Nancy has taken the opposite approach and said, ‘We’re here, we’re back and not only that, we’re going to give you something bigger and more spectacular than you’ve ever seen.’ So, she is to be credited with tenacity, audacity and ambition. And I’m blown away by it.”

Bringing in a guest director — Thompson has directed and choreographed more than 100 professional productions nationwide — gives the volunteers who make up the Lewiston Civic Theatre the chance to experience a “different perspective, different talents,” McIntosh said.

“Scott, for example, is a choreographer,” she said. “It just gives them a perspective that I think is valuable.”

The plan, she said, is to establish a guest director series.

“What we’d like to do is bring in a guest director for one show a season,” she said. “We are hoping it will be an ongoing feature.”

Thompson already had one tie to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He knew Amy Baker Stout — a Clarkston resident, Lewiston Civic Theatre board member and frequent Civic actor (she’s the fairy godmother in this production) — “from years back.”

“One of the joyous things about someone like me coming into this situation is it really is fun for me to come into a community where the passion for theater and doing what they do is so alive,” he said.

As much as he enjoys working with Broadway actors and union designers and crew members, he said, “coming into a situation like this where it’s so much more for the love of it … that translates into just a different kind of passion that is very, very refreshing to be around and kind of renews my faith in the whole thing.”

“I hope I’m giving some gifts to them, but they’re certainly giving them back to me.”

For example, he said, he’s delighted in watching young people learn, in the course of just a few weeks, not just this play’s choreography but the “vocabulary” of musical theater.

“I’m not going to say it’s almost magical,” he said. “It is magical to watch that happen.”

Part of his awe in working with the volunteers has been in seeing such ambition in the face of limited resources, including the lack of a permanent home for the theater.

Its previous location, the Anne Bollinger Performing Arts Center, was condemned in 2016, and while the old Lewiston High School auditorium offers a welcome option, it is not without challenges.

“We have some major surprises for you. That auditorium is going to look better and spiffier and more fabulous than (audiences have) yet seen it from the civic theater. I think they’re going to be like ‘OK, wow,’ ” Thompson said. “But, you know, it would be a lot easier to pull off that spectacular of an effect with a theater that was more friendly — not the high school; they’re not unfriendly — I meant with architecture and a facility more friendly to that kind of theatrical ambition.”

His hope, he said, is the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley will continue to rally around its civic theater.

“I think it’s true of any community — this is an old expression — we get the theater we deserve. And what I mean by that is a community has to invest in their artists in some way,” he said. “I’m just hoping that people will come out and see this. General audiences, but also the powers that be. Because, heck, it’s time for Lewiston to have a real performing arts center.”

Wherever they are taking place, whoever is directing, and whatever plays are being performed, Thompson said his hope is for the civic theater to thrive in Lewiston.

“In my experience traveling around the country, I see success stories and sadder stories. I’ll hear theaters that I worked for four and five years ago that are closing their doors and shutting down, because they’re not getting the community support they need,” he said. “On the other hand, there are some good, great things happening. I just want for these lovely people for it to be THAT, because that’s what their hard work deserves.”

*Civic theater officials announced the afternoon of June 8 that opening night was postponed from Friday, June 10, to Saturday, June 11: "Due to unforeseen circumstances the Lewiston Civic Theatre is postponing our opening night of Cinderella until Saturday, June 11 at 7pm. at the former LHS auditorium on the Normal Hill Campus. Cinderella is going to be spectacular and the extra day will give us time to put on the finishing touches. We thank you for your patience and understanding"

Stone (she/her) can be reached at mstone@inland360.com.


If You Go
What: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella”

When: 7 p.m. June 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25; 2 p.m. June 12, 19 and 26.
Where: Old Lewiston High School auditorium, 1114 Ninth Ave.

Cost: Adults, $19; seniors/veterans, $16; students, $14; children, $11.

Tickets: lctheatre.org or (208) 746-3401.

Of note: Features musical numbers, including “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible” and “Ten Minutes Ago.” Guest director Scott Thompson, from L.A., has directed and choreographed more than 100 professional productions nationwide.

What's next: Auditions for "Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic," which will be directed by Amanda Marzo, are at 6 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, June 13 and 14, with callbacks at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 15.

Rehearsals for the humorous play that might put one in mind of a famous boy wizard and his school, are at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, from June 20 to July 28. Performances are set for July 29-31 and Aug. 5-7.

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