Monday, April 30, 2018

"Tinderella: The Modern Musical"

Tinderella: The Modern Musical
Rose Oser (Book), Weston Scott (Lyrics) & Christian B. Schmidt (Music)

The Cast of Tinderella
Two years ago, I raved in a review about a world premiere musical that I described as “a modern fairy tale with no happy ending guaranteed but a lot of sex and excitement getting there.”  The tight, fast-paced, and ever funny and exciting production ran just seventy-five minutes as Tinderella: The Modern Musical took an age-old tale about a girl looking for her prince and updated to one where this girl swipes frantically right and left on Tinder until her hopeful match is found in cyberspace.  At the time, I described Faultline Theater’s Tinderella as a musical with “clever, gritty lyrics (Weston Scott); music of mixed genres but always with today’s beat (Christian B. Schmidt); and a book that snaps and sizzles (Rose Oser).” 

Some of that is still true for the latest, expanded-to-two-hour version by this same team of Tinderella: The Modern Musical, now in a joint production by Custom Made Theatre and Faultline Theater.  However, as the story lengthened, characters added, and new songs written while some old disappeared, much of the magic of that initial fairy tale has unfortunately given way to rhymed couplet lyrics that too often sound trite and forced; to sex scenes that have become not just edgy and fun but high-school, locker-room silly; and to a storyline that has lost some of the original, fun spoof on Cinderella as it broadens to focus on not one but two twenty-something women learning to let go of the same man.

The new opening number “Like Me” is less about Tinder dating and more about Millennials constant attention on social media and collecting likes and shares.  That in itself is still fun enough as their rousing voices ring out about San Francisco as “a city of friendship, friendship at a price,” where “if you like us, then we will like you more.”  One of those wanting to grab the likes of others is Meg (Juliana Lustenader), a blonde who could be from somewhere in the very white Midwest in her skirt of flowers and sparkling, perfect complexion.  She sings in an almost young girl voice while snapping selfies left and right, “I want the picture perfect life, to be someone’s picture perfect wife.”

Brandon Noel Thomas & Juliana Lustenader
Unlike her totally perfect and already married-with-kid-and-dog sister, Allie  and her adventurous best friend, Tanya, who join Meg in their own selfies and in singing “Picture Perfect,” Meg has no real clue how to find her happiness.  That is, until her “fairy, fucking roommate” Dylan decides it is time to become her “fucking fairy godmother.”  In a tight, black outfit and nylons that stretch over his gigantic self to the point of tearing, Dylan sings “Magic, More or Less,” calling on Adele in his atmospheric, high falsetto to help him out.  Brandon Noel Thomas in nails long, pink, and pointed has more advice and opinions for Meg than Dear Abby – all given with much swish and drag-inflected swagger.  His Dylan at times sings in a voice worthy of any diva but unfortunately at other times, ventures off-key and flat.  But always, Dylan is on stage in Meg’s living room, ready to pounce with a pointed comment and ready to be fabulous – just as he magically makes her over in new dress when she finally finds a potential beau and a date to a party with Marcus.

Sarah Jiang & Jackson Thea
As Meg looks for her lover with Dylan’s help, a side story is occurring that runs throughout the two hours between two on-and-off-again lovers, Julie (Sarah Jiang) and Marcus (Jackson Thea).  Marcus wants to follow Julie to Texas where she is heading to graduate school and with her to set up a ranch where they can have ponies and kids.  Julie wants none of that as their disparate dreams become evident in a well-harmonized “Look Around You.”  Ms. Jiang is particularly strong in voice and character portrayal as Julie, showing off her light and airy voice in “The One,” in which she realizes, “There’s so much more life I need to take ... Is where I am the best place I can be?” 

Meanwhile, the Tinder part of the story is heating up as Meg goes searching.  Silhouetted guys appear in three doorways with pick-up lines that all sound pretty good – that is until their cartoon-like dances and poses keep degenerating into “dick pics” and a do-wop anthem to “penises.”  Andrew Chung, James Seifert, and Ryan Wakamiya take their turns in out-lewding the others as they take selfies focused on their dangling members (all of which only Meg – and not us -- sees on her ever-present IPhone). 

The Cast of Tinderella
The match made in cyber heaven for Meg is of course a now loose-free Marcus (or so he is pretending to be).  It is at his “Super Cool Party” she is going, but not before much drinking and wild but sophomoric and silly dancing (choreographed by Meredith Joelle Charlson) occurs prior to her late arrival.  The thrusts, jumps, and arm jabs of the second act’s opening number give way to a “Slow Grind Love Song” where Meg, now arrived, seems to have lost all notion of finding a perfect husband or even a nice boyfriend and is ready to butt-grind along with all the drunks around her.  That sudden and unexplained switch in her nature and character is one of the parts of this reincarnated Tinderella that works less well, in my opinion; and the entire party scene helps that story to lose some focus and punch even with all its over-the-top, drunken frenzy.

Adiellyn Mendoza, Juliana Lustenader & Alex Akin
After the required midnight split by our princess (in her way short dress of much silver glitter and glitz), the stories of Meg, Marcus, and Julie continue to mix and match where happiness is still to be defined for each.  Meg scores Juliana Lustenader’s best number of the night in “Any Minute” as she waits for the morning-after IM from Marcus.  Allie and Tanya show up to help Meg get a “Reality Check,” with Adielyn Mendoza and Alex Akin proving in that one number to have the night’s best voices in a song that is perhaps the best-written one of the current musical.

Ken Savage directs Tinderella with many clever touches, using the three doors of Randy Wong-Westbrooke’s brick walled set design to full use.  The issue with this reincarnation of the original Tinderella is much more in the script and song changes than in the production team’s overall fine efforts. 

The costumes of Alexis Lucio greatly enhance the main and ensemble characters (with the exception of the choices for Dylan’s clothing, which seemed more appropriate for someone on the streets than for a fashion-conscious, gay, fairy godmother.)  Maxx Kurzunski’s lighting design helps bring Tinder pics to full life while Evan Wardell’s sound design keeps those Tinder, Facebook, and Instagram “likes,” “shares,” and “messages” sounding forth on continuous cue.  (There was on opening night a number of times the mikes taped onto each actor caused annoying static and buzz, but hopefully that is something that can be corrected for the rest of the run.) 

Tinderella: The Modern Musical ends with a full and rich-sounding ensemble singing “Okay,” a song that lets the earlier frenzy of the musical settle into a self-reflective mode for Meg and Dylan.  Walking away, I had that “OK” feeling about the musical’s reincarnation but lacked the grinning exuberance that the original musical’s final number of “Happily Ever After” (even when it did not all turn out that way) left me.

Rating: 3 E

Tinderella: The Modern Musical continues through May 26, 2018 at Custom Made Theatre (in a joint production with Faultline Theatre), 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at or at or by calling 415-789-2682 (CMTC).

Photo Credits:  Jay Yamada


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