Saturday, August 25, 2012

Steampunk Cinderella Sticks to the Story

The shoe fits!
Everyone knows the story of Cinderella. When her father remarries all seems well, but when he dies, the cruel stepmother pushes forward her two daughters and Cinderella becomes their servant. Enter prince, fairy godmother, ball, wedding, and happily ever after.

This favorite story was put to music in 1957 in a fine Rogers & Hammerstein version written for television. This beautiful production and music are still performed today. Last night, I saw a Steampunk version that reliably delivered the tale--with a very different look and feel.

Steampunk originated in the 1980s and 1990s, incorporating elements of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history and speculative fiction. Just think of a steam-powered computer. Lots of dials and watch gears. You see a lot of it at Comic-Con. What it means, on the set, is that folks were dressed in jackets, boots, goggles, strange hair and odd colors -- nothing you'd expect. Cinderella's costume was very plain and simple, but when it was transformed (surprisingly instantly) for the ball, Steampunk was forgotten and gorgeous and blue appeared before our eyes. Artistic Director/Costume Designer Andrea Gorham did a sensational job.

This is community theatre, but it is very well arranged and performed. Several actors stand out. Of course, Cinderella herself, the slim and beautiful Catherine Willamson, was able to move from the poor and put-down house servant to belle of the ball with ease. She is given solo songs, such as In My Own Little Corner, her lament early in the production, and she sings along with Prince Christopher, played by Matt Ono, later on. The ensemble singing was especially strong, and Williamson's sweet and powerful voice carries over everyone.

Prince and Cinderella falling in love.
Another remarkable role was the very non-traditional Fairy Godmother, sung by the stunning Kristina Stasi. Tall and dramatic in her Steampunk regalia, she strutted the stage after making her grand entrance from the top of the gear-laden stage. Part of the non-traditional feel here was how she didn't just wave a wand and set up Cinderella for the ball--she told Cinderella that wishing wasn't enough--it's what you did with it that mattered! It was all about empowerment. Then she waved her arms, lights flashed, and an incredible pumpkin coach rolled in, stage right (great work, stage designers!).

This is a romantic story, but there was plenty of comedy, thanks to Cinderella's mean stepmother and her two pathetic daughters. Stepmother, played in a Cruella De Vil style by Ali Lane, had some funny asides and she was wondrously jaguar-like in her hanging on poor Lionel, the Prince's steward.

Lionel, played by veteran Kevin Foley, had the pivotal support role of announcing the Prince's ball at the beginning, counseling the Prince throughout, avoiding Stepmom during the ball, and helping the Prince find the true princess by carrying the glass slipper (not real glass in this production, of course). Foley did a great job as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Curtain Call production of A Christmas Carol last December.

Those clumsy and unpretty stepsisters made the audience laugh. Diminutive, squirrely Joy (Alice Beittel) was rubber limbed and wooden headed, giggling hysterically and flopping down like a rag doll. Her sister, Grace (Kate Offer), resembled a linebacker and charged up on the poor prince like a force of nature. The three step-women's attempts to place Cinderella's shoe on their oversized feet were hilarious, and set up the scene nicely for the dramatic moment when the shoe fits perfectly on Cinderella.

Stepsisters Grace and Joy had the audience laughing.

The staging stayed mostly with the main layout with its gears and 19th-century colors and angles, but there were times when the action moved offstage. For example, the prince, spotlighted, actually attempted to fit the glass slipper to a few women in the audience before visiting Cinderella.

The music was fine and appropriate throughout. I noticed there was no room for an upright bassist to stand in the pit, and that an electric one was provided (intentionally) by Music and Vocal Director Jedediah Da Roza. Da Roza took the Steampunk motif seriously. Replacing the bass was just one of the things he did. He changed which instruments played the parts, including adding keyboards, electric guitar and harpsichord. However, he left all the original and beloved Richard Rogers notes intact except for one spot. He ended "In My Little Corner" in a minor instead of a major key.

The ensemble dancers moved in a mechanical, Steampunk way at times, and when the mood required it, flowed gracefully. If this were a movie, I'd flip back and watch it again, because so much was happening at once and the richness of the costumes was somewhat dazzling to take it all in in one pass.

Curtain Call Performing Arts has brought Broadway style theater to the greater San Francisco Bay Area for four years.Their Gift of Broadway program has provided nearly 8,000 local K-8 grade school children with the chance to see live theater free.

The show runs through August 31st, with matinees on August 25 and 26. All shows will be performed at the Castro Valley Center for the Arts at the Castro Valley High School Campus on Redwood Road. Visit or call the box office at 510-889-8961 for more information.

No comments: