ARCHIVE: A Cinderella Story for Ex-Miss NJ

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Looking a bit pressed for time in the title role of Phoenix Productions’ CINDERELLA, Amy Polumbo (with Matt Walsh as her Prince) seems right at home in a tiara during her reign as Miss New Jersey 2007.

By TOM CHESEK (First published on RedBankGreen April 16, 2010)

It’s a Cinderella story in itself; the stranger-than-fiction tale of how a hard-working troupe from the “community theater” side of the tracks became the belle of the ball — and earned a residency at that shining castle on the hill.

Cinderella in this case is Red Bank’s own Phoenix Productions, longtime purveyor of musical entertainments for appreciative local audiences, and a nonprofessional company that’s been known to spin a little night magic from a mice-and-pumpkins budget. The castle, of course, is the remade and remodeled Count Basie Theatre — the jewel in the county’s cultural crown, and a nationally notable stage whose boards have supported some of the biggest names in show business. It’s a venue that’s definitely a quantum leap from an all-purpose room or church basement — and one that’s made its mark on the quality of the offerings from the ever-ascendant Phoenix.

When executive producer Tom Martini and company inaugurate their 2010 season of shows this weekend, they’ll be dealing in some pretty timeless stuff — the Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II version ofCinderella, a musical that made its debut as a TV special long before its Broadway bow (and which takes much of its present shape from a network revival that starred Brandy and Whitney Houston). It’s a staging that features some familiar Phoenix faces — including in the title role a locally celeb who’s apparently right at home in a tiara, former Miss New Jersey Amy Polumbo.

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This Show’s Got Legs: Amy Polumbo as Ariel in the Walt Disney World live-action attraction VOYAGE OF THE LITTLE MERMAID, and back on terra firma as a working stage actress.

To dispose of the proverbial elephant in the room, the name of Amy Polumbo might be familiar from her brief interlude as a nationwide story in summer of 2007. During that interval between her being crowned Miss New Jersey and her competing in the Miss America Pageant, an unidentified blackmailer threatened to go public with a set of scandalous photos of Polumbo drinking and partying with friends, unless the Howell High School grad withdrew from the national pageant. Polumbo instead defused the situation by going on the Today show with the photos in question — a set of mild (by Wild West Web standards) images which, while they continue to circulate online to this day, drew a collective “eh” from a rubbernecking horde that very quickly moved on to the next fresh-kill scandal.

It’s an episode that the 25-year-old proponent of internet safety prefers to move beyond as well, stating flatly that “I refuse to let it define who I am. It was a case of a friend having betrayed me, and I prefer these days to focus on the positive.”

“Positive” for Polumbo means balancing a new set of studies with a continued interest in the stage — a pursuit that saw her sign a one-year contract with Disney, for whom she performed a season’s worth of shows (five to seven 15-minute shows each day) as Ariel in Walt Disney World’s live-action attraction Voyage of The Little Mermaid.

In between seeking work in summer stock productions, the 2008 graduate of Wagner College expresses an interest in obtaining a masters in speech pathology — a field in which she’s had a personal stake, having lost her singing voice for a two-year period due to the disorder known as muscular tension dysphonia (an intensive program of therapy with a speech and voice professional eventually got her back in tune).

Polumbo’s no stranger to the Phoenix camp as well, having appeared as Liesl in The Sound of Music and as Sarah in Guys and Dolls, a show in which she was first paired with frequent Phoenix flyer Matt Walsh.

“I was a little afraid of him at first; this mature, serious actor I was cast with,” Polumbo says of her princely co-star, a versatile performer who’s played every imaginable type of lead and character part in the American musical canon. “But he’s really a lot of fun to work with — he puts you at ease.”

Also highlighted in the cast under the direction of Sandra “Sam” McLaughlin are Marybeth Jacobson as Cindy’s Fairy Godmother, withLeonie Higgins (Stepmother) plus Lindsay Wood and April Coleen(Stepsisters) complicating things for our glass-slippered goodgirl — and ten year old Rumsonite Owen Doherty (Two River Theater’s Melissa Arctic) included in the ensemble. Musical direction is by Bob Sammond, and choreography by Kaitlyn Bernaski.

Going up tonight (April 16) and continuing Saturday at 8p, Cinderellaalso presents matinee performances this Sunday and on April 25 at 3p, as well as two more evening shows on April 23 and 24 (after that, the coach has to get back to the rent-a-pumpkin pronto).

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