Cinderella's Erica Messonnier
September 30, 2018
At the Benedum Center on the opening night of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, almost every little girl was dressed up in a little blue ball gown with her hair done up in a bun on the top of her head. They sit mesmerized in the audience and coo when Ella’s rag dress magically transforms into her beautiful white ball gown. They are adorable and are almost a show in themselves. For Erica Messonnier, the little Cinderellas are a joyous sight. She says that being able to bring Cinderella’s story to life for audiences across the country makes the long travel days easier.
Messonnier is an ensemble member of the touring production of Cinderella. The musical show differs from the famous Disney movie in a few important ways, though the general story is the same. The 2013 stage version was based the 1957 made-for-television movie written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The movie starred Julie Andrews and Christopher Plumber as Cinderella and Prince Christopher (Rupert Windimir Vladimir Carl Alexander Francois Lancelot Reginald Herman Gregory James). The stage musical added a second plot line with a villainous royal advisor, a crumbling kingdom, and a revolutionary named Jean-Michael.
“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is different from Disney’s animated Cinderella. The basic story is the same, but we have the gorgeous Rodgers and Hammerstein score! When the television musical was produced for Broadway, Tony-nominated playwright Douglas Carter Beane adapted and updated the story. There are quite a few wonderful changes the audience won’t expect of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I don’t want to give anything away; all you need to know is that the magic you love in the television musical comes to life on the stage. It is incredible and beautiful!” Messonnier says. Though the stage musical was based on the 1957 movie, Messonnier doesn’t let the original source material influence her
acting. “Since the television musical and the Broadway musical are a bit different, even though we have a basis to work off of, there is much we can explore and find ourselves to create our own versions of the characters.”
Messonnier is a native of Dallas, Texas. As a child she spent her time in the dance studio. “That was where I was the happiest and had all of my friends, so I really loved it! I am an only child, so being able to hang out with all of my friends and do something I loved so much was definitely a treat for me,” Messonnier says. She did musical theatre as well and performed in her first professional musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, at the age of 12. In high school she did a few productions including Footloose.
She went on to be a Dance major at Point Park University and loved her time there. “I was in a class with a bunch of super-talented performers who pushed me every single day. My teachers were amazing as well,” she says. Though the work was challenging and her rehearsals were rigorous, Messonnier had an “amazing experience” and believes that her schooling shaped the performer she now is.
Even though Messonnier was a Dance major, she loves performing musicals as well as straight dance pieces. She loves that through both art forms she can tell a story and make the audience feel something. Through performing she is able to talk to different audience members and learn that each and every person walks away from the same musical or dance with a different feeling.
Live theatre, Messonnier believes, is real and more personal because the actors can see the audience and take them along their character’s journey. Being in a theatre allows the audience to disconnect from a screen, be it watching a YouTube video on a cellphone or the latest blockbuster at the movies and connect with the actors in a way that screens don’t allow. If Messonnier can make someone feel something or move them in some way through her performance, she’s done her job, she says.
Throughout her college career she performed with Pittsburgh Musical Theatre so it’s exciting for Messonnier to be performing in Pittsburgh again. The last time she was performing here, she was in Seussical the Musical with PMT at the Byham.
Upon graduating, Messonnier went on to work for Viking Ocean Cruise Line’s first ship, the Viking Star. She says that working for a cruise ship was very challenging because the usual difficulties of live theatre were put on a stage that was constantly moving. She enjoyed the work but says it’s vastly different from doing a show on land. While working on her last cruise ship, Messonnier got certified in scuba diving. Though she hasn’t had the opportunity to go scuba diving recently, she’s excited to use it on a future vacation.
Like being on a cruise ship, being on tour is a lot of travel. She loves seeing new places and meeting new people. Messonnier is also a self-proclaimed foodie (“a HUGE foodie”) and is currently on the hunt for the best donut shops around America. She’s found some “really great” places in Alaska and NYC.
The tour life, however, isn’t all glamor. The constant travel and work schedule is tiring. “I love being on tour seeing the country and meeting new people, but being on tour is actually harder than most people probably realize. At times, we are in a new city almost every day which makes for a lot of travel. Don’t be fooled by the “glamorous” life of a performer. Haha!”
On stage, Messonnier and the Cinderella cast look glamorous. During the ball number, the women swirl around the stage in gorgeous brightly colored ball gowns and get lifted into the air by the men. As a featured dancer, Messonnier is carried across the stage in a stunning purple dress. Though the dances look completely effortless, a lot of preparation is required. Messonnier stretches and rolls out her muscles before the show and leads an ab workout for a majority of the ensemble. Not only does it pump up the cast for the show every night, but it also brings the company together.
The cast comes together to bring the show to life. As Prince Topher, Louis Griffin was both royal and endearing. From his first entrance on stage to his final bow, he spoke to everyone in the audience who has ever wondered “Me, Who Am I?”. Across from him, swing and understudy Victoria Newhuis shone on opening night. She transitioned from meek Cinderella to the royal Ella with ease. The footman and driver played by Tyler Eisenreich and Nick Burrage respectively, leapt across the stage and danced beautifully. The two stepsisters, Joana Johnson and Nicole Zelka struck the perfect balance of comedy and heart while Sarah Smith and Christopher Swan were deliciously evil as Madame the stepmother and Sebastian, the evil advisor to Prince Topher. In a heartwarming moment Madame and the stepsisters join Cinderella in “A Lovely Night.” Corbin Williams was a trumpeter for justice as the town revolutionary Jean-Michel.
From the cast to the costumes to the set to the orchestra the production was magical. It was clear that Messonnier and the cast loved what they were doing. They were able to bring a beloved fairytale to life and cast a spell over the city of Pittsburgh. Says Messonnier, “People will, of course, take away a sense of wonder from the incredible magic. But they will also be touched by the heart of the show. Ella is a strong female character who embodies kindness which is so important … always.”