San Leandro’s Curtain Call Performing Arts company is ending their season on a high note with their wildly imaginative, steampunk (I’ll explain in a minute) production of Cinderella. The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic tale of the much maligned Cinderella, who becomes a servant to her stepmother’s two “real” daughters after her father passes away, is oft told and much beloved. The hummable favorites (“In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?”) still resonate despite the passage of fifty-plus years. And the storyline is still rich and dreamy, but director and choreographer Misty Megia’s decision to ratchet up the energy by going steampunk, lifts this production into the stratosphere, making it a must-see theatrical event. Playing now through August 31st in a limited engagement at the Castro Valley Center for the Arts, this Cinderella is smart and edgy, giving a creatively refreshing twist to an old favorite.
And now for the steampunk explanation. Steampunk originated as a literary and film genre that fused together elements of the Victorian era as well as the Industrial Revolution’s major achievement - the steam engine. The era’s ability to mass-produce metal parts was also incorporated and then the whole thing was given a modern punk twist.
Working within this premise, scenic designers Ricardo Trengali and Catherine Jensen provide intricate clockworks, gadgets, brass fixtures and a steam-powered pumpkin carriage that imbue the show with a delightful, steampunk character.
Not to be outdone, costume designer Andrea Gorham (assisted by Kathy Gorham and Anna May Tandi) went wildly bold with visible, neo-Victorian corsets, bustiers, imaginative hats, aviator goggles and punk style boots and heels, truly bringing the steampunk vision to life. The effect was just this side of Goth (think Goth but in brown) and it was nothing short of fantastic.
Keeping in line with the steampunk ethos Megia (in her director’s role) gave us a decidedly self-confident Cinderella (played and sung beautifully by Catherine Williamson) and a very savvy Fairy Godmother (the fantastic Kristina Stasi) who states matter-of-factly, “I never really wanted to fit in, I prefer to stand out.” Stasi’s vocals were a definite standout – she was the perfect steampunk fairy godmother.
As choreographer, Megia mimicked the clock gear’s staccato motion and gave us steampunk dancers whose movements were clean and crisp. Later they segued into grand and sweeping, fluid movements that underscored the romance between Cinderella and her prince, played with utter charm by Matt Ono.
Actresses Kate Offer and Alice Beittel had the deliciously plum roles of Cinderella’s evil and conniving step-sisters and stole the limelight whenever they were onstage. Ironically namEd Grace and Joy, they were anything but! Grace (Offer) scratched incessantly, blustering about the stage in a hilarious attempt to be lady-like, while a fidgety and awkward Joy (Beittel) determined to win the prince over by laughing at his every word. Her peals of laughter gave way to convulsive snorts and did nothing to make her case!
After Cinderella’s fairy godmother magically helps her to see that she alone has the power to make her dreams come true, she comes to the ball and immediately charms the prince. Grace and Joy don’t recognize Cinderella when she makes her grand entrance, but they do recognize that they’ve been snubbed by the prince, who only has eyes for this mystery woman. The two sisters scowl, whine and grouse their way through “The Step-Sister’s Lament,” a number that truly brought down the house.
Equally engaging was Kevin Foley as the long-suffering and loyal valet, Lionel. He watches over the prince, answers to the King (Phil Smotherman) and Queen (Martie Muldoon) and he fends off the advances of Cinderella’s stepmother (played to wicked perfection by Ali Lane).
The prince and valet have a wonderful scene where they run through the audience looking for the girl whose foot will fit the glass slipper, which was left by the mystery woman when she unexpectedly fled the ball. The two step-sisters, as well as their mother, quickly seize the opportunity to try on the shoe themselves, each determined to force size 11 feet into the size 6 glass slipper. But to no avail. The slipper only fits on one foot - Cinderella’s.