(Source: Carol Rosegg)
When Leslie Jackson saw “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” performed during its first run on Broadway, she was under a spell. Five years later, her fairytale dream has become a reality.
Jackson (Bienen ’11) plays the fairy godmother in the show’s national tour, which hits the stage Friday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago and will run until May 6.
Jackson said the audition process for the production was an unusual one. After submitting a video audition for the title character Ella, Jackson received callbacks for both that role and the fairy godmother Marie. After a final callback with the show’s director, she was offered the part of Marie.
Marie, Jackson said, is perceived by most characters in the show as a “crazy woman” who is alienated by society. However, Jackson said underneath this outward image, Marie is a free spirit who ultimately helps Ella chase her dreams.
The role is traditionally played by older actresses in their 40s, which Jackson said initially made her apprehensive because she graduated less than 10 years ago.
“I didn’t really know if I was capable of playing a crazy old lady, but the director was like, ‘No, you can do this … you don’t have to play super old, just be yourself and the makeup and the wardrobe will do the work for you,’” Jackson said.
With the younger casting, Jackson said the relationship between Marie and Ella more closely resembles a friendship.
Jackson said she drew inspiration from Whitney Houston’s “fun and sassy” portrayal of Marie in a 1997 film adaptation. However, she said she makes sure to keep the interpretation true to herself, while still integrating the quirkiness of Marie’s character.
Former Bienen Prof. Bruce Hall said he was “unsurprised” when he heard Jackson landed the role and is thrilled for her success.
As an opera student, Jackson was always a talented and kind-hearted student, Hall said.
“I remember her starting off quiet,” Hall said. “To become a voice major and be very quiet in your lessons was a unique thing, but (she was) always so sweet and always striving to get where she wanted and needed to be.”
During her college years, Jackson said she struggled with stage fright, but overcame her insecurities by performing publicly, using focusing exercises and finding confidence within herself and through her support system at NU.
Communication Prof. Amanda Dehnert said although Jackson has always possessed an incredible voice and stage presence, she has seen her confidence has blossomed over time. Dehnert recalled watching Jackson in an audition room post-graduation and feeling impressed by how Jackson commanded the room.
Jackson said it is both friends and teachers like Dehnert that have helped her to become an “unapologetic” performer. Embracing Marie’s carefree persona, she said, has allowed her to further let go and have fun on stage.
With its Tony-winning costumes and elegant score, Jackson said the show takes an iconic tale and makes it captivating for a modern audience.
“Come expecting the classic story that everyone knows and loves, but also be open to change,” Jackson said. “It’s got a lot of added humor and wit that wasn’t a part of the original production … that kind of makes it a little more modernized and updated for today.”
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