Youthful satire skewers excesses of digital dating
Bay Area theatrical audiences are usually crammed with gray-haired folks whose locks and wrinkles resemble my own — or gay guys and gals who lap up classic musical comedies.
Custom Made Theatre aims at a different demographic.
And gets it.
They’re younger, hipper, decidedly livelier when showing appreciation.
And they laugh more boisterously.
Consider “Tinderella: The Modern Musical,” for example. I’m blown away opening night by how enthusiastic, how energetic the squealing, shouting, stomping twenty- and thirtysomething audience is.
I’m also blown away by how excellent the youthful 10-member rainbow cast and satirical presentation — co-produced by FaultLine Theater (which specializes in new works that focus on pop culture) — are.
Cole Ferraiuolo, co-artistic director of FaultLine, says the musical “started out as a kinda brash, little bit snarky idea among friends [but] has matured.”
He’s doesn’t gush nearly enough.
The two-hour, two-act, 18-musical number, Oakland-oriented world premiere that’s been in development for three years is sometimes sexy, sometimes sweet — despite derivative themes.
I might have labeled the book by Rose Oser a cliché had she not managed to inject elements of “Cinderella” while skewering excesses of a digitally-obsessed culture, twisting a classic love story into a nuanced tale buttressed by almost sung-through pop/rock melodies.
Ultimately, though, “Tinderella,” which Ken Savage artfully directs, paints a musical portrait of a generation that isn’t different than the ones that came before or the ones yet to come.
Still, it’s delightful.
Even as it scrutinizes alienation, loneliness and life’s “nothingness.”
That said, I must note that the musical’s most enjoyable when funny — a frequent condition, aided greatly by the comic talents of Jackson Thea as Marcus, who’d just be a dork if Meg (Juliana Lustenader, a young Julia Stiles-lookalike) didn’t perceive him as Prince Charming; Branden Noel Thomas as Dylan, a fairy god-roommate (in both the gay and mythical senses) and friend; and bug-eyed, malleable-mouthed James Seifert (a Hank Azaria-lookalike) as techie Kyle Henderson, a stalker and a Supreme, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
The show’s enhanced, too, by the whimsically genius choreography of Meredith Charlson, particularly in one show-stopping scene that demonstrates sexting and another that illustrates bump-and-grind one-minute stands.
Meg longs to be a “picture perfect” female in a devoted relationship — yes, read that as true love — but can barely get a “like” without Dylan’s assistance.
And oft-unwanted advice by her stepsisters, Tanya, a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, and Allie, discontented New York City possessor of husband, offspring and pooch.
Along the way Meg must cope with the dating “magic” of the 2013-established phone app Tinder, a ball-like “super cool party,” the need to catch BART before midnight and losing her silver pumps.
Although I didn’t exit humming Christian B. Schmidt’s tunes, I did leave basking in lyricist Weston Scott’s internal rhymes, cleverness and ability to advance the storyline.
Social media and selfies in general and Tinder and “T-dates” in particular, unsurprisingly, are at the crux of the piece — with reverence (despite one character insisting that “online dating is so creepy”).
And although I’m way too ancient, and too blissful in my 30-year marriage, to have used that dating service, I fully appreciate the tensions and tribulations wrought by being swiped away.
One of the joys of “Tinderella,” in fact, is a series of blackouts in which our distressed heroine dismisses a series of wannabe male lovers.
Another fun-filled scene happens when Marcus becomes the quintessential suitor (in tails, carrying gifts that include a huge stuffed teddy bear, red roses, champagne and chocolates).
Though unfamiliar with some terminology (I do comprehend “ghosting” as rejection but need tutoring about “benching,” “stealthing” and “cuffing season”), my ignorance matters not: The lingo’s evident in context.
Also on the plus side, plaudits are due Joel Chapman, music director, and his small but proficient band hidden onstage behind Randy Wong-Westbrook’s simple but effective semi-circular scenic design.
Only two things bother me: Because its creators couldn’t kill their now-and-then redundant literary or musical babies, “Tinderella” runs 15 minutes too long, and Lustenader keeps tugging at what must feel like an unreasonably short, immodest dress.
Custom Made publicity says the musical’s about “finding the one…and the one after that.”
But I’m sure it’s about more than “love at first swipe” or the rarity of two humans fusing in relationship. It’s about the thorny journey of finding oneself.
For audiences, especially young ones, that translates into an exuberantly entertaining trip.
“Tinderella” will run at the Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St. (at Powell), San Francisco, through May 26. Night performances, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets: $25 to $42. Information: www.custommade.orgor 415-798-2682.