When Stepp Stewart was living and performing in Europe, there was one film that stuck in his mind: “Cindy”.
Perhaps it’s because the 1978 made-for-TV movie starring Nell Carter and Clifton Davis was the only one he found that contained English subtitles. It also had an all-black cast, something not often seen.
“I kept watching it and watching it,” said Stewart, an Atlanta-based choreographer, director, songwriter and producer, who still owns the VHS tape. “We finally got to see an African-American princess. I had never seen that before. The princess was always white. The prince was always white. ”
He vowed that one day he would make a stage version of the film. He did.
“Stepp Stewart’s Cindy The Musical” will have it’s third season run in Atlanta Friday through Sunday at the Porter Sanford III Performing Arts Center , 3181 Rainbow Drive, in Decatur.
It stars Georgia State University student, Dri Jack plays “Cindy”. Stewart calls the young actress “God sent. She has embraced this role like nobody else.”
Avis LaShawn is “Vivian” the wicked stepmother and LaMonte Williams stars as “James” the father.
The songs are written by Stewart, including the powerful standout , “I Run This House.”
Stewart said he wrote the music while shopping the aisles at Publix or waiting in line at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The play is based on the children’s classic “Cinderella,” but with an urban twist.
The show is set in the 1940s. Cindy, in this case, lives in Columbia, S.C. and goes to live with her father and his new family in Harlem. Like the original, the is a ball (the Sugar Hill Ball), a wicked stepfamily and in this version, a handsome Army officer.
Since the last run, Stewart has added two new songs, “Hurry Up” and “Wedding Bells”
Stewart, who is coming off of a sold-out run of “A Soulful Christmas,” said he wanted to make the 22-cast musical because he felt it was important for African-American girls to see themselves on stage. “We all want a fairy tale ending.”
The Ohio native’s hope is that it will soon go to Broadway – or off-Broadway.
Stewart, 52, has been acting professionally since he was 19. His first performance was at Opryland theme park in Nashville, where he played W.T. Handy in the cast of “Sing Tennessee.”
He has performed as a singer or dancer on stages in the United States and Europe in “Cats”, “Dreamgirls” “Sophisticated Ladies” and is sometimes a guest on the “Dr. Oz Show.”
“I never considered myself an actor,” said Stewart, who moved to Atlanta in 20o9 . “I’m a song and dance man. My idols are Sammy Davis Jr., the Hines Brothers and Ben Vereen.”
As a youth, he watched countless musicals and endured the taunts of others his age.
“They said you’re this or you’re that, but my talent always outpowered their words,” said Stewart during a break in rehearsals. “My family always supported me . I used to tell the other kids, ‘When I roll up to McDonald’s you guys will be taking my order’.”
With his success, the others are probably choking on their words.
“It’s what I love,” he said. “I’ve been one of the people who are blessed to do whatever they want. “If I come up with an idea, I try to make it happen and that’s a blessing and a curse.Upcoming shows include “Red Hot Broadway” March 24 through March 26; “Soul Cinema Cabaret” May 6 through May 8; and “Show-n-Tell” June 8 through June 10.