As parents we often wish we had a magic wand, but Cinderella’s fairy godmother, played on Broadway by Victoria Clark, says that even with a magic wand, the job’s not all that easy. The actress is petrified of heights but overcame them for the role, largely as a lesson to her son about pushing our boundaries and to show him that parents really can feel joy, despite all our complaining and bossing.
Ms. Clark stars as Marie, the fairy godmother in the Broadway musical revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s "Cinderella." She told me during a phone interview from her New York apartment that the first time a stage technician suspended her from the cables at the Broadway Theater he told her, “Just let go. Don’t touch the cables. You HAVE to LET GO or you can’t really fly!”
Now I want that on a T-shirt with a fairy pointing a magic wand at a kid whose helicopter parents are keeping him/her grounded by doubt and worry: “You HAVE to LET GO so they can fly!”
I digress. Back on Broadway, Clark was eyeing the technician and telling him flatly, “I can’t do this. No. No, I really can’t.”
However, this is the mom who, in order not to disappoint her son Thomas Luke “TL” Guest, now 18, took him on rollercoasters each summer, riding them with her eyes closed. She and her husband divorced when TL was four years old, leaving the child to “commute” between parents. Therefore, time together doing “normal family things like going to the amusement park” as mom and son became mission critical. She wasn’t going to spoil it by grounding them both.
Despite her rollercoaster ride experiences, the prospect of being suspended by cables above the stage, while saddled with a massive pair of wings, was nearly too much for Clark to cope with.
Add to that the stress of the mom of an only child seeing her son is about to graduate from high school and head off as one of the top NCAA soccer drafts. It seems her entire life, personal and professional, seems to have come down to “letting go.”
Clark had come to a crossroad in the middle of a Broadway stage. “I really wanted to be this particular fairy because she’s so temperamental,” Clark mused. “In this production, the fairy godmother is rather emotionally challenged, coping with wing issues, transportation problems to solve, and the disappointment of clients who are stubborn and deny help.” Sounds like kids to me.
Because she’s been burned before, the fairy godmother actually tests Cinderella before she decides to give her the gift of her help. She comes to her in disguise as a bag lady to see if Cindy will really be kind and deserving. “Also, since the fairy has been around as a bag lady, she knows what it is to be overlooked and discarded.”
The part was just too good, and Clark knew her son was aware of just how badly she wanted to keep it. While the prop wand held no real magic, her passion for showing her son how to fight fear to win a dream must have some special power, because she decided to mom-up, put on her big girl wings, and get flying.
Clark even learned to enjoy flying, but only after several weeks and occasionally flying into trees on stage. Clark explained, “I just realized that I really can’t do anything about it. If a cable breaks there’s a backup cable and after that there’s nothing I can do but hope for the best and enjoy the experience.”
She said her son is delighted. “The first time he saw me he laughed himself right out of his seat in the theater,” she added. “He and his friends come to numerous performances just to see me enjoying something that scared me.”
“I think children love to see their parents have fun and be happy,” Clark said. “Being happy in front of your children is such a good example because too often we are just saying we’re tired.”
She added, “I try to set an example that if you love what you do and are persistent you can succeed.”
It would seem that despite divorce, a latch-key life for her son, odd hours, and her job hanging by a wire, Clark has managed to rewrite the fairytale of motherhood to give herself and her son a long run of happy endings.