Cinderella in spikes NEYT throws a screwball at a familiar fairy tale

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By JON POTTER

BRATTLEBORO -- Still undefeated after 10 years in the game, the New England Youth Theatre has to be considered the prohibitive favorite as the baseball playoffs begin.

NEYT’s Young Company is dusting off home plate and polishing both cleats and glass slippers, as it throws out the first pitch on a wild new production that combines classic baseball, classic comedy, a well-known fairy tale ... everything but the kitchen sink.

NEYT presents "Cinderella at the Ballgame," a wildly comic story featuring princesses, fairy godmothers and godfathers, as well as the Boys of Summer, Mel Allen, Bleacher Bums and even the Green Monster.

"Cinderella at the Ballgame" will be presented this weekend only, with performances Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Like seats in Fenway during the playoffs, tickets will be gobbled up quick. Tickets are $9.50 for adults, $7.50 for students and seniors. For information, call 802-246-6398 or www.neyt.org.

Written by NEYT Founder and Artistic Director Stephen Stearns, this new play was created with NEYT’s Young Company during a series of classes held during the fall 2008.

Like the ‘69 Mets, this group dozen or so kids ages 10-12 was identified early on as a young bunch with a lot of talent and a uniquely creative and energetic flair.

"This is the next generation," said Stearns, noting that the group reminds him of the first batch of NEYT actors he gathered together 10 years ago. "This is like directing a group of squirrels or direct a stagecoach of 13 independent ponies."

So Stearns decided to try and school these squirrels in the tricks of the trade. In three-hour sessions every Sunday afternoon last fall, he introduced them to comedy techniques developed by masters of an earlier age -- Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy.

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At the same time, he and the young actors began working on a script. They started with suggestions for classic stories to work with, and Cindrella came up. Then, in a flurry of creativity, the kids decided to give it a baseball spin.

"We decided to have it at Fenway Park, so we’ve got a Green Monster," Stearns said.

Most of those kids from the fall 2008 group have stayed with the project and are in "Cinderella at the Ballgame."

The baseball theme gave Stearns, who showed up to the interview with me wearing a Red Sox cap, an excuse to teach them about baseball.

"They didn’t know who Mickey Mantle was; they didn’t know who Ted Williams was; they didn’t know who Babe Ruth was," said Stearns.

The end result is a Cinderella story any sports fan can root for. Our heroine Cindy loves baseball and practices faithfully with her animal friends. She lives near Fenway Park and has not only a Godmother, but also a real Mafia Godfather. We discover that she must contend with a wicked stepmother and three selfish step-siblings and needs to cleverly escape organized crime villains who will stop at nothing to influence the outcome of the World Series. ... It’s the ninth inning, the home team is losing, there are two outs, the Prince of all "closers" is coming in to pitch and who is that stepping up to the plate? You’ll have to tune in.

Other authentic baseball touches include a radio announcer reminiscent of Red Barber and Mel Allen and on-stage bleachers some lucky audience members will sit in.

"This is a pretty outrageous show," Stearns said.

After Saturday’s "Popcorn Playhouse" 10:30 a.m. matinee, Stearns and fellow partner in laughs Peter Gould will give a workshop titled "Clowning Around," from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., for ages 9-12, as part of the Work*Shop weekend held all around town. Pay what you will, just come and have fun.


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