Twin Cities theater mainstay Tonia Hughes on Cinderella’s ‘message of hope’
By Raquel Hayes
It is extremely gratifying to witness African American performers stepping outside of the expected roles that society presumes they should play. Many actors and actresses alike are taking steps towards diversifying theatrical productions all across the metro area.
Tonia Hughes, currently starring in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at the Ordway, is a part of the groundbreaking group of talented African Americans that isn’t afraid of stepping outside of the norm and demonstrating that their talents aren’t limited to a specific area just because of skin color. Hughes has performed in numerous productions across the Twin Cities throughout her career as an actress and singer.
In Cinderella, Hughes (TH) plays the role of the Fairy Godmother. She will bring music to your ears and unquestionably get you in the holiday spirit.
MSR: What inclined you to audition for the role as the Fairy Godmother?
TH: I actually received a call from James Rocco, who is the artistic director here, and he asked if I was interested in auditioning for Cinderella; and of course I said yes and came and auditioned. A couple days after the audition, they offered me the role as the Fairy Godmother. So I’m honored to have been cast for that.
MSR: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s version of Cinderella has a more modern twist to it and breaks away from traditional character roles. How did it feel to assist with diversifying the play by playing an African American Godmother?
TH: I think it is an honor to be able to be on the stage, first of all, at the Ordway as an African American woman. And I think our community is proud that they cast an African American woman in the role as a Fairy Godmother, because it’s something that is out of the box, so to speak. So yes, I’m very honored to be in that role.
MSR: How would you briefly sum up your character?
TH: The Fairy Godmother is very confident. She seems as if at one point she might have gone through something to boost that confidence, and now there’s nothing that she can’t face. She understands that impossible things are actually happening every single day. So yes, she’s definitely confident and she’s trying to transfer that confidence to Cinderella — and she eventually does.
MSR: How was this role different from some of the roles that you’ve played in the past?
TH: It differs greatly for me because most of the roles that I’ve played in Penumbra [Theatre] have been more musical, meaning I’ve done a lot of singing and very few spoken words in terms of the verbiage in the play. In this, of course, I [am] singing, but a lot of lines I’m speaking as well. So it greatly differs in that way but I’m enjoying every step of it, and I’m learning a lot from the cast members who are a part of this production…
MSR: What do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of your role in this production?
TH: It’s rewarding because it sends out a message of hope. [The Fairy Godmother is] giving a message of even though [Cinderella is] saying “impossible,” the message is it is possible; and eventually she transfers that to Cinderella…
MSR: Do you feel that you’re able to relate to your character on a more personal level?
TH: Ironically, this role parallels with my life. Over the last 10 years, I’ve faced a lot of obstacles and a lot of oppositions. But my coming through those obstacles and knowing that if I have gone through this anything is possible, I just feel like that is what connects me to the character: that no matter what you go through anything is possible if you believe. So you’ve got to find that in you. I don’t care what it is — it’s possible…
MSR: How do you feel that this Cinderella production will help people get in the holiday spirit?
TH: The message of hope: I think around the holidays, a lot of times we get depressed because we want to do things for our families and sometimes we’re not necessarily in the position to do so. But if we can get past that and just embrace our families, no matter if we’re able to do what we want to do or not, but just embrace the family and spread love.
I think the message of hope will definitely get people in the spirit. Give them some holiday cheer.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella will be at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, 345 Washington Street in St. Paul, through January 1. For more information, call the ticket office at 651-224-4222 or go to www.or dway.org.
Raquel Hayes welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
MSR readers can get a special deal on tickets to this show: Simply use the promo code SOULBALL for $35 tickets (plus fees) to any performance NOW – Jan. 1.
Call the Ordway ticket office at 651.224.4222 or go online at ordway.org for tickets.