"Simple Cindy" - Melissa Swick Ellington reviews the new original children's musical at On Stage Productions

On Stage Productions presentsSimple Cindy: A Full Fledged Musical? at their West Columbia  location with five more performances June 19-22. This original musical representssimplecindy a unique collaboration between writer and theatre director Robert Harrelson and his young niece Sydney Porth. About five years ago, Harrelson wrote the book and lyrics for Simple Cindy and offered his then eight-year-old niece the opportunity to compose the music. Just fourteen years old and attending Governor’s School for music this summer, Porth has musical theatre experience well beyond her years.


Celebration of youth and emphasis on learning characterize the welcoming theatre community of On Stage Productions.  In addition to providing a forum for a young teen composer’s appealing music to be realized in full production, Simple Cindy also features the capable work of a high school student (Ryan Rogers) as the show’s director. The cast of Simple Cindy includes first-time actors as well as youngsters with more extensive theatre backgrounds. All performers are valued and encouraged in this engaging production, as Harrelson and his company of hard-working parents and theatre supporters create potentially life-changing opportunities for young people.


Composer Sydney Porth

Simple Cindy’s script brings numerous classic tales together; children in the audience will be delighted to recognize familiar characters such as Dorothy, Snow White, Wendy, Goldilocks, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and more. With the help of an energetic Narrator and a friendly Musician who endeavor to manage the lively characters, Cindy explores “the real story” of her life. Clever revisions to the well-known tale abound, such as silver slippers because “glass is so dangerous.” Families will appreciate the gentle nature of this play that encourages kids to “make a wish with all your heart, and you will see the magic start.” The performers’ sincerity is strong and touching.


Hannah Presor plays the role of Cindy with great charm. She exudes comfortable stage presence during interactions with fellow performers as well as appreciative viewers. (My young daughter eagerly volunteered to follow Cindy onto the stage during an audience participation sequence, and was determined to give Cindy a rose after the show.) Macey Coats shares infectious energy and a lovely singing voice as both the Narrator and the Godmother; she also does fine work as the show’s choreographer. Katie Edelson creates memorable characters as the Musician and Glenda, Olivia Lesniak becomes an expressive Dorothy, and Grace Beasley plays a sweet Wendy. Emma Yankowitz is charming in three roles (Rapunzel, Young Cindy, and Old Lady), while Danielle Mejias (StepMother), Gracie May (Antasheneezia) and Mia Coats (Drowzilla) embrace their outrageous characters with gusto and flair. James Conner Rabon as the Prince communicates volumes with his humorous facial expressions while dancing with the would-be princesses.

Macey and Hanna

The cast also includes Izzie Cruea, Carrissa Mejias, Maddie Cruea, Pierce Mejias, Alana Armstrong, Dominick Campbell, Victoria Harbin, and Brianna Northcutt. Every performer appears confident on stage. Take it from this former drama teacher – that is one remarkable achievement.


Opportunities for audience interaction abound but never overwhelm. Viewers are invited on stage to help open a fairy tale book and later to fold clothes with Cinderella. The friendly Narrator thrilled my six-year-old by giving out invitations to the ball during intermission.  Participants can also join the cast photograph following the performance, which was a big deal  for my daughter. (Small children will benefit from front row seats, as the sight lines can be challenging for shorter audience members.)


Simple Cindy is a homegrown delight. Harrelson shares that “We try our best to make everyone feel special at our shows,” and the On Stage community succeeds. When the Prince quizzes her on possible identifying characteristics, Cindy responds with the simple and powerful statement  “I’m just me.” At On Stage Productions, anyone can be “just me” and feel welcomed, included,  and celebrated. During the car ride home following the performance, my daughter confided that On Stage makes her “feel the happiest.” Happily ever after, indeed.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

Upcoming performances:

Thursday June 19 - 7:30 pm

Friday June 20 - 7:30 pm

Saturday June 21 - 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm

Sunday June 22 - 2:30pm

For more information, visit htp://www.onstagesc.com, or call 803-351-6751.  The On Stage Performance Center is located at 680 Cherokee Lane in West Columbia.

"Yes Virginia - The Musical" at On Stage Productions - a review by Melissa Swick Ellington


The On Stage Productions performance of Yes, Virginia The Musical offers plenty of heartfelt holiday spirit.  Drawn from an animated television special, the stage musical (with music by Wesley Whatley, lyrics by William Schermerhorn, and book adapted by William Schermerhorn from the animated special and storybook by Chris Plehal) has been developed by Macy’s as a performance opportunity for young people.

the cast of "Yes Virginia - The Musical" at On Stage Productions; photo by Rob Sprankle

Based on a true story, the action unfolds during the year 1897 in New York City. Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon questions whether Santa Claus is real. The search for truth takes her to the library as well as through the holiday bustle in the city, where Virginia encounters a bell-ringing “scraggly Santa” who reveals gifts for friendship and wisdom. Since she has been told “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so,” Virginia writes a letter to The New York Sun, asking “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” While the answer to her query is well known, the journey to that answer provokes curiosity.

Olivia (L) and Liberty Broussard as

Highlights of the performance feature the lovely singing voice of Liberty Broussard as Virginia, the clever timing of Rachael Sprankle as the whimsical Librarian, and the dynamic exuberance of Olivia Lesniak as Virginia’s best friend. Zach Tenney as Scraggly Santa exudes strong stage presence and communicates believable character development. JoJo Wallace conveys the mean girl role of Charlotte with vigorous energy, supported by her snooty cat Mrs. Whiskers (Mia Coats). Sincerity and sweetness emanate from the entire cast, particularly in the closing reprise of the title song. Additional cast members include Ella Johnson, Grace Beasley, Emma Cathryn Eubanks, Pierce Mejias, Perry Raines, Zavery Johnson, Paul Woodard, Heyward Moak, Cameron Eubanks, Turner Carson, and Major McCarty. The capable and dedicated production team includes Robert Harrelson (Director), Ryan Rogers (Youth Director), Rebekah Cheatham (Youth Choreographer),

Rachael Sprankle as Miriam the Librarian;  photo by Rob Sprankle


Michelle Cheatham (Choreographer Coordinator), Debi Young (Rehearsal Music Coach), Brandon Moore (Stage Manager), and Tony Vaccaro (Stage Design and Props). April Wallace and Gina Moak Cotton designed costumes, Harrelson and Rogers planned lighting and sound, and Jill Larkin and Niane Szalwinski shared producer responsibilities. Production design establishes numerous locations effectively, such as Virginia’s home, the Sun office, the library, and the streets of New York City. Projections of images featuring different Santas from around the world emerge in the library sequence. Younger viewers will benefit from front row seats, as the audience arrangement can obstruct the view of little ones. The intimate performance space creates a cozy and welcoming environment; carol-singing and piano-playing plus a hot chocolate “bar” (and the delectable dessert offerings for sale) make intermission feel like a friendly holiday party.

JoJo Wallace (R) as mean girl Charlotte, and Mia Coates as her snooty cat; photo by Rob Sprankle

The focus on youth engagement at On Stage Productions is commendable, as evidenced by inclusion of the student directing intern in the opening remarks, and the production’s involvement of an eleven-year-old choreographer. The young actors appear comfortable and confident on stage. The audience’s enjoyment of the performance is buoyed by the children’s delight in performing. (My six-year-old daughter confided after the first act, “Mommy, this seems like a GREAT place to be in a play!”) The earnest ensemble entreats in song: “Believe in joy. Believe in love. Believe your whole life through. Keep bright the light of childhood.” The light of childhood shines brightly at On Stage Productions this holiday season.

Want to learn more about the script and score? The website yesvirginiathemusical.com provides production resources which will delight young theatre artists. Interested in attending the On Stage performance? Visit www.onstagesc.com for tickets and further information. Yes, Virginia The Musical will be presented at the On Stage Performance Center (680 Cherokee Lane in West Columbia) at 7:30 pm on December 7, 12, 13, and 14, and at 2:30 pm on December 7, 8, 14, and 15.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington