Hannah Bontrager. Photo by Stephanie Urso.

A Rockin’ Cinderella Story

Ballet and fairytales unite with ’60s jukebox tunes

Rock and roll takes on a new challenge when ballet tells the story of a classic fairytale. Once upon a time, a young girl is left with her wicked stepmother and bratty stepsisters. Sweeping and scrubbing floors became her life along with making friends with rodents. One night, her fairytale godmother drizzled her magic through the air, and she transformed the girl into a princess wearing a powder blue ball gown and glass slippers who falls in love and dances the night away with Prince Charming. 

Now this fairytale is reimagined with professional ballet dancers and rockin’ billboard hits. Ballet Fantastique presents CINDERELLA: The ’60s Rock Opera Feb. 29 through March 3 at the Hult Center. That romanticized night with Prince Charming turns into a prom weekend where the doo-wop, twist and mashed potato dances fill the stage. Cinderella, now Cindy, becomes rebellious and embraces her love for rock and roll, defying all odds.

Cindy “needs the help of her friends and her community to create more out of her life,” says Hannah Bontrager, one of Ballet Fantastique’s choreographers and producers. “To me, there’s something really powerful in the story about having someone show up for you and say, ‘You deserve more, and being able to believe that for yourself.’”

The core members of Agents Of Unity: Left to right: Callan Coleman (bass), Shelley James (vocals), Rica Wright (vocals) & Joe Weber (guitars). Photo by Dmitri von Klein.

The production team had a vision for the musical ambiance. The Beatles and The Supremes make a comeback with Shelley James and The Agents of Unity Band mixing up rock classics with their own twist. “They bravely took the project on after some convincing, and they knocked it out of the park,” says Bontrager. “I really dare anyone in the audience not to want to sing along.”

Since 2011, Agents of Unity often plays as a quartet with James and her husband Callan Coleman. As the band evolves, musicians and friends are brought in to perform. They are two “longtime married musical couples and happen to be bffs, raising our kids, enjoying life,” James writes in an email. The artists are also members of the Satin Love Orchestra while additionally playing in separate bands with separate genres and styles. Usually, the band performs ’80s rock and pop while also covering favorites from the decades. Agents of Unity is “adaptable and interchangeable to different kinds of styles and flare flavors,” James says.

For this particular show, Agents of Unity will expand to an eight-person band with a second guitarist, Tom Teutsch, and drummer Tim Donahue. Marisa Frantz and Eva Coleman are added as vocals. Eva is James’ and Coleman’s 14-year-old daughter and is taking the stage with the band for the first time. “She is so excited and this is very special for us,” James writes. With 16 classic Billboard hits to cover such as “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Jersey Boys, “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore and “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons, the band has created its own unique arrangements.

Ballet Fantastique electrifies stories intertwined with classical ballet and live music. It’s a “bold new renegade ballet theater,” Ballet Fantastique’s website states. The company first premiered this show in 2012 and performed it in 2015. This will be its third complete performance with updated comedy, props and an influx of international dancers. “We’re pretty psyched to be doing this collaboration for the third time,” James says. “We all just love music. We love to bless our town.”

A fairytale wouldn’t be complete without a family affair. And that is just what this is. Bontrager’s sister Ashley Bontrager stars as Cindy next to her husband Gustavo Ramirez, who plays Prince Charming. “That’s a fun opportunity for them to bring that chemistry alive on stage as well,” Bontrager says. As the artistic director, their mother, Donna Marisa Bontrager, helps produce the show.

CINDERELLA: The ’60s Rock Opera creatively twists the famous fairytale in numerous ways. Look out for the differences such as a fairy godfather, a 1960s hot pink convertible Corvette and more. “We’re adding a little bit of extra magic in terms of some bells and whistles that we have the capacity to do now as a company that we maybe didn’t have 12 years ago, when we were first starting out,” Bontrager says.

CINDERELLA: The ’60s Rock Opera is 7:30 pm Feb. 29, March 1, March 2 and 2:30 pm March 3 at The Hult Center, 1 Eugene Center. Tickets start at $22 for Feb. 29 through March 1 and start at $32 March 2.