Where is Cinderella's tiara?
It's a mystery that needs to be solved since Cassady Gorrell, who plays the title role in Lexington Children's Theatre's annual summer family musical, must take the stage in less than an hour.
It's also one of the first things I hear when I meet LCT staff for a backstage glimpse at what goes on during its annual summer family musical.
Cinderella's director, Jeremy Kisling, walks me through the theater's corridors, where actors are in various states of dress — some still in street clothes, others in layers of period costuming by designer Eric Abele.
The missing tiara is not the only puzzle being solved.
In the Green Room, a handful of people, from young elementary students to college students and parents, are calmly focused on a jigsaw puzzle on a table in the middle of the room.
It is just one of the many rituals that summer family musical participants enjoy. Sometimes they play 20 Questions or Where's Waldo. These kinds of games create a unique family-oriented culture that not only gives both children and parents something to focus on between appearances on stage, they also further cultivate a sense of togetherness and teamwork.
"It's so wonderful because it's multigenerational — you have the older kids mentoring the younger ones and, of course, the parents are involved too," says Grace Gorrell, the mother of Cassady.
"I'm not in it this year, I'm just a groupie," she jokes, "but once you participate in this, you're family."
Cassady has been involved at LCT since she was in pre-school and her prince, Joseph Wrightson, is also an LCT veteran. They both recently finished their freshman year at UK, where Wrightson is majoring in voice performance and Gorrell is majoring in theater.
When LCT last produced Cinderella, in 2009, Gorrell and Wrightson were waltz partners.
Wrightson is in the Green Room helping the younger children solve the jigsaw puzzle when word comes that the tiara has been found.
In the hallway outside, Kisling pauses to show a wall filled with decorated paper plates. Each is marked with colorful words of encouragement and what I can only assume are inside jokes.
"These are our warm fuzzies," says Kisling, describing how every year the cast and crew gather, tape paper plates to their backs, and sign each other's plates with notes of encouragement. It's yet another ritual — like meeting up at Sonic after the show — that is part of the LCT family tradition.
"When we created the summer family musical program, we really just wanted to make a big family," says Kisling.
On the Sunday show I attended, the LCT family was down one member — costumer Eric Abele, who had just left Kentucky to resettle in Maryland, where he will be a lecturer in costume design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Abele began his Children's Theatre journey as an intern before returning to graduate school and coming back to the theater as its lead costume designer.
"I like to say I was with LCT eight of the last 11 years," says Abele, who has worked on around fifty shows.
Even though Abele left Kentucky midway into the show's run, his legacy lives in its elaborate costuming, particularly Cinderella's breathtaking rags-to-riches transformation.
Through the magic of theater, Gorrell spins around in her "rags" dress, and it transforms into a stunning ball gown.
"I just wanted to make it as magical as possible," says Abele, who was inspired by Cinderella's quick change at the 2013 Tony Awards.
"There was a lot of buzz after that," says Abele, "so the more we talked about it, the more excited I was to give it a try."
Abele's ambitious costuming was challenged by a tighter than usual deadline. The theater was supposed to produce Beauty and the Beast, but due to an issue with the rights to produce the play, they had to make a last-minute change to Cinderella, a show Kisling has directed several times before.
"Normally I have about eight weeks to produce drawings and really plan," he says, "but I only had about a week and a half."
On a compressed timetable, official drawings went out the window. Abele collaborated with his design team and consulted with designers around the nation, making quick sketches as needed and largely just trusting the creative process.
Abele also rented costumes from three different companies in addition to building new wardrobes for the play's principal characters.
For Cinderella's ball gown, which is almost a character in itself, Abele practiced with sample fabrics to explore different quick change options.
"The secret is fishing line," Abele says, hinting at one last designer's secret.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.