ORLANDO — Central Florida Vocal Arts was born in 2012 at a kitchen table in a Baldwin Park apartment, according to founder and current Chief Executive Director Theresa Leigh Smith-Levin.
It’s focus is “to provide paid performance opportunities for professional and pre professional young artists and to train and nurture the artists of tomorrow,” according to their website. They have produced several local productions, including Soap Opera at the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival and The Quest: Choose Your Adventure.
The group, in many of its productions, employs a focus on mixing opera and other genres, as well as using a technique where audiences literally choose the path of the show in the style of those old “choose your adventure” books of the past.
This Friday, they open Grimmly Ever After at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park.
Grimmly Ever After takes some of the works of the Brothers Grimm and reinterprets them from different perspectives. According to Cristyn Schroder, one of the writers, the show brings us some familiar characters like Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel & Gretel and the Evil Queen, but also touches on some of the lesser known works.
She enjoyed taking the original works and creating something new by merging characters and changing aspects of stories. One of the best examples is the presentation of Rumpelstiltskin as a woman. Cristyn believes that the power of a piece like this is its ability to take everyday realities and present them in a fantasy world. She also believes that by incorporating different styles of music (the show features music from sources as diverse as Lawrence & Fain, Schubert, Humperdink and Lady Gaga), versatility is created in performers, allowing them to become more well-rounded.
Caila Carter (the aforementioned Rumpelstiltskin) has approached her character from a perspective of wanting “happiness by any means necessary.” Carter says she has channeled the character of Regina from the television show “Once Upon A Time” to help create the base for Rumpelstiltskin. Additionally, the devotion to family found in both characters is something she can relate to at a core personal level, with family defining the most important relationships in her life.
Performing for the first time with Central Florida Vocal Arts, Carter — last seen in the Cultural Fusion production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill — was effusive in praise for the talents of her cast members and looks forward to future opportunities.
According to Justin Morrison (who plays Jacob Grimm), a transplant from Pittsburgh who performed there with the Pittsburgh Opera and was also seen in Soap Opera, his character (and his counterpart Brother) act as narrators that take us through the myriad potential plot lines determined by audience picks. A proud member of the Central Florida Vocal Arts, Morrison believes that Orlando “should be proud of its arts community” and enjoys being a part of the milieu.
Director Frank Siano, a veteran musical theater performer in Orlando who recently directed Little Shop of Horrors at Osceola Arts, spoke to the adjustments in directing a show that has 13 scenes — of which only 7 will be seen on any given night.
“I may never see some of the scenes we spent so much time on,” he shared, while acknowledging the upside of a type of theater that is almost like a controlled improv. He was able to leverage his traditional approaches to musical theater direction to guide and hone the “choose your own adventure” nature of the show. Siano is proud of the finished product, and is excited to see the end result, which will be different each night.
GRIMMLY EVER AFTER opens tonight and runs for two weekends. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11, 12, 18 and 19, and 2 p.m. on Nov. 13 and 20. Tickets can be purchased at www.centralfloridavocalarts.com.
Paul Castaneda is an Orlando journalist, theater director/producer and local businessman. You can reached Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.