Lead role in Theatre Lawrence’s ‘Cinderella’ an actual dream come true for KU law student

photo by: Mike Yoder

Kelly Schellman, as the Fairy Godmother, left, and Maggie Shermoen, as Cinderella, right, rehearse a scene from "Cinderella." The show opens Friday, Dec. 2, at Theatre Lawrence.

When Maggie Shermoen graduated from Missouri State University with a degree in theater, she figured on moving to New York to try her hand at professional acting.

Shermoen had lived and breathed the stage from a young age — one might almost say from conception, considering her musical-loving parents met while performing in a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.”

But just as she was about to pull up stakes for the East Coast, COVID-19 struck and closed down virtually all public life.

“The whole theater industry just kind of shut down, and that was very scary for me,” said Shermoen, who took the opportunity to engage in some pragmatic reassessment.

Desiring “some sort of job security” in precarious times, she decided to head back to school, this time in pursuit of a law degree at the University of Kansas, where she is now in her second year.

While the detour to Lawrence may have temporarily dashed one dream, it has let another come true for Shermoen: playing the role of Cinderella.

“I remember watching the Julie Andrews version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Cinderella,'” she said. “My mom and I would watch it all the time when I was little. And ever since then, it’s been this dream role for me.”

When she saw that Theatre Lawrence was doing the show this season, she thought “I just have to audition for that” — not least, she said, because, at age 25, she might not get many more chances to play the teenaged princess.

Laurie VanderPol, who’s directing Theatre Lawrence’s show — which follows the 1997 Brandy/Whitney Houston version rather than the 1957 Andrews one — said that she had a lot of talented folks audition for the role but that Shermoen, a first-timer at the local theater, was irresistibly “perfect.”

“She’s something else,” said VanderPol, a retired teacher who taught drama at West Junior High for many years. “She’s such a triple threat. She can sing, she can dance, she can act.”

On top of that, Shermoen is “made to be a Disney princess,” VanderPol said, but she quickly added, “not a stupid Disney princess.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

Maggie Shermoen, playing Cinderella, is greeted by Tony Console, playing Prince Christopher, during a rehearsal of “Cinderella” on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at Theatre Lawrence.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Kelly Schellman, as the Fairy Godmother, in the carriage seated at left, and Maggie Shermoen, as Cinderella, seated at right, rehearse a scene from “Cinderella.” The show opens Friday, Dec. 2, at Theatre Lawrence.

For her and Shermoen both, “Cinderella” is much more than the familiar tale of “local girl makes good, weds famous man.”

Rather, it’s a story with surprising depth that, Shermoen said, principally explores the universal feeling of wanting to belong.

“She’s a smart Cinderella,” VanderPol said of Shermoen’s portrayal, but with “vulnerability” and “dimension” and a “sense of wonder.”

Aside from Shermoen’s title performance, VanderPol touts the show’s 19th-century costuming by Jane Pennington and choreography by Robbie Fowler.

“It’s got sort of a flow to it and a beautiful softness and a lovely rhythm,” she said of the dance numbers.

She also praised the ingenuity of longtime technical director James Diemer, who, apart from the magic of turning pumpkins into carriages, came up with a novel solution to show the prince’s desperate search for the owner of the glass slipper that famously, if implausibly, fits the foot of only one woman in the entire kingdom; it involves a movie within the musical that VanderPol expects to be a crowd-pleaser.

Theatre Lawrence veterans Kelli Szrot and Kelly Schellman are also returning for “Cinderella” — Schellman in Houston’s role of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother and Szrot, whom Theatre Lawrence fans may remember from her star turn in last summer’s “Hello, Dolly!,” as Cinderella’s mean stepmom.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Kelli Szrot, center, playing Cinderella’s stepmother, rehearses a scene with Allison Ralstin, left, and Ellen Welander, right, playing Cinderella’s step-sisters, at Theatre Lawrence. The theater’s production of “Cinderella” opens Friday, Dec. 2.

photo by: Courtesy of Theatre Lawrence

Maggie Shermoen, as Cinderella, and Kelly Schellman, as the Fairy Godmother, rehearse a scene in Theatre Lawrence’s upcoming production of “Cinderella.”

With one Theatre Lawrence show nearly under her belt and one more year to go at KU Law School, Shermoen is “definitely” eager to audition for more local roles. Next time, though, she’ll likely consult her hectic calendar a little more closely.

“I think I’ll probably stay away from shows that tend to run during my final exams,” she laughed.

“Cinderella” is scheduled to open Friday at Theatre Lawrence, 4660 Bauer Farm Drive, and will have multiple performances through Dec 18. For information about tickets, call 785-843-SHOW (7469) or go online at theatrelawrence.com.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Cast members rehearse a scene from “Cinderella” at Theatre Lawrence. The new show opens Friday, Dec. 2.


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