The Hartford Courant
June 23, 2014
Both Cynthia Whipple and Mary Cashman lost their mothers at a young age. "They weren't really etiquette experts but what they were experts at was teaching about kindness and gratitude and appreciation," says Whipple of Avon. Looking for a way to share traditional values with their own kids, these friends, both Trinity College graduates and former colleagues at a law firm, decided to write a children's book, extolling the virtues of having good manners. They self-published "Merrilee Mannerly," a vibrant, pink book about a young girl who helps a friend learn to be polite. Four years passed, and now, their venture is finding new life as a musical production, hitting the stage during summer vacation.
"This was beyond our wildest dreams," smiles Cashman, mother of an 8-year-old in West Hartford. "As a mom, I'm always thinking, 'What can I do this weekend with my daughter that would be fun?' And, if it sends a good message, that's even better." The authors were at a book event when they were approached by Ryan Ratelle, who had connections to children's theater. He said he'd like to bring "Merrilee Mannerly" to the stage. They partnered with a composer and lyricist team with experience writing for Disney and a script was born. "The Summer Theatre of New Canaan saw it at a reading we did in New York and they asked if they could present it this summer," says Cashman. "The world premiere!"
The show is playing through July 19th (www.stonc.org) for camp groups and the public. Cashman and Whipple hope kids take away a simple yet important directive: be respectful and good to one another. "It's incredible. The musical just emphasizes everything we tried to get across," says Whipple, mom of three, who was overwhelmed when she first saw her creation come to life. "I was teary-eyed the whole time!" Cashman echoes the emotion. "The musical has exceeded any expectations that we had," she says. "It's fun, the music is fabulous, the message is there but they're not knocking kids over the head with the message. We couldn't be prouder of it."
With "Matilda" and "Annie" recently lighting-up Broadway, Whipple and Cashman believe theater is a great way to open kids' eyes. In fact, they hope this summer gig leads them to the Great White Way, or nearby. Their goal is to bring the story to an off-Broadway venue in the near future. Educational and entertaining, "Merrilee Mannerly" is a throwback with modern edge, best summed-up by this phrase from the musical: "8 year olds of the Earth unite! Let's all treat each other right!"