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Four-year-old Aaliyah Delahunt giggles with Cinderella (Samantha Walkes) at the IWK Health Centre on Friday. Three members of the cast of Neptune’s Cinderella visited the children’s hospital, delighting kids by reading books, singing and dancing. - Ryan Taplin
Andrew Prashad, who plays Boutons in Cinderella on stage at the Neptune Theatre, tap dances for two year old Tegan Ferris and her father Chris at the IWK Health Centre on Friday. - Ryan Taplin
Ryan Brown (Prince Charmin), Samantha Walkes (Cinderella) and Andrew Prashad (Boutons) read to two-year-old Tegan Ferris and her father Chris at the IWK Health Centre on Friday. - Ryan Taplin
Ryan Brown (Prince Charmin), Samantha Walkes (Cinderella) and Andrew Prashad (Boutons) read to four-year-old Aaliyah Delahunt and her mom Natasha Compeau at the IWK Health Centre on Friday. - Ryan Taplin
Four-year-old Aaliyah Delahunt heard Cinderella was in the playroom at the IWK Health Centre. With medical tubes from her body attached to a pole pushed by her mother, she cautiously stepped into the room.
Within seconds an enormous smile lit up her face as she spotted Cinderella (Samantha Walkes), her friend Boutons (Andrew Prashad), and Prince Charmin (Ryan Brown). The cast members from Cinderella at Neptune Theatre were reading a book to two-year-old Tegan Ferris.
Aaliyah told them one of her favourite songs was about tacos falling from the sky, then she sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
“I love your laugh,” Walkes said.
Aaliyah was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in June and since then, her mother Natasha Compeau has been travelling to the IWK from Moncton every second week. Aaliyah has a tough time being separated from her twin and 11-year-old sibling, but Compeau said it’s not a matter of keeping her daughter’s spirits up – she does that all by herself.
“She inspires everyone every day to be kind and do things, be happy and take the positives out of all the crummy situations that are happening,” Compeau. “It’s difficult but it’s temporary, it’s going to pass. She’ll be good, things will get better and there’s still that light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t lose hope.”
Compeau called the visit by Cinderella and her friends “pure strength” and something her daughter will remember for a long time.
Walkes said it wasn’t difficult to encourage giggles from the kids, adding the costume did most of the work.
“This is pretty much what they have in their minds, as long as you’re smiling it’s pretty much a done deal.”
Prashad bonded with an older boy over a love of the Montreal Canadiens and the pair played a little air hockey. After, the trio of actors made a bedside visit to a boy named Max, his baby sister and parents.
“You look comfy,” Walkes said to Max while swishing her blue sparkling dress with matching fancy shoes. “These shoes are killing me. I wish I could lie down.”
Prashad lugged a wooden board through the hospital as a mobile stage. With unflagging energy he taught kids how to tap dance before giving them a performance.
Friday’s visit was especially meaningful for Prashad, who spent a lot of time in the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto with his youngest child, who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
“When I’m in that room with them, I know what it is to sleep on that little bed, but you don’t get to sleep,” he said. “It’s nice to be the one walking through the hospital bringing the smiles, instead of the one waiting for the smiles.”
It was also great to offer parents a break from entertaining their little ones, he said.
“When the parents see their kids smiling and laughing, they might be too tired to do that. If I can just lift that for a second off of them, then I’m appreciative.”
Samantha Walkes knew with the role of Cinderella, she had big shoes to fill.
As one of the first women of colour to play Cinderella on a theatre stage, she was a bit apprehensive of the audience reaction. Her first introduction to the community was waving from a float in the Parade of Lights in November.
She said she didn’t know if people would see Cinderella or a woman of colour. But the audience reaction made it an emotional night for Walkes.
“I was overwhelmed with how excited even the parents were. The parents were freaking out, very excited, even more than the kids sometimes,” she said.
“It was an emotional time because I realized in that moment they were seeing both the magic and me in the magic. The two weren’t separated and for most of my life it has been.”