Skyline High puts on a Cinderella Christmas
on December 10, 2010
Mariella Cordova and Jeff Derenthal, both seniors at Skyline High School, sat in the fifth row of the theater’s red seats laughing and talking over each other in their excitement to explain the dance-musical-comedy performance they were about to take part in—the school’s new fall musical, A Cinderella Christmas. The pop tune infused version of the traditional Cinderella story drew hundreds of attendees on a rainy Thursday night.
Derenthal was dressed in a brown hunting coat with a silver vest and a thick, face paint mustache. He plays the duke—the guy who brings the glass slipper from house to house searching for Cinderella after her midnight departure from the ball in the original story. In this version, written by Skyline performing arts academy director Jan Hunter, the duke is an adviser to King Fabulous and his son, Prince Fabulous. “He’s like the liaison with the normal people,” Derenthal said.
Cordova, wearing a raggedy green cotton dress, said playing the role of Cinderella in this show was one of her first experiences with acting. “I enjoy it because it’s something new,” she said. Cordova said she’s not new to performing though. “I do have pretty good skills in singing,” she added.
“She’s the best singer in this school, bar none,” Derenthal broke in. Cordova ducked her head. “I’m feeling a lot less nervous that I was yesterday,” she said. “We have a really good feeling about tonight because we got through the whole show [on Wednesday] without stopping.”
The Skyline High School performing arts academy has deep roots in North Oakland. Actor Tom Hanks got his start here and has regularly referenced his theater teacher at Skyline as one of his primary inspirations. With such a long history, tradition runs deep, and one of the students’ favorites is a high-energy theater game played before each performance. Since no outsiders are allowed backstage, Derenthal and Cordova did their best to explain it with wild hand gestures— the rules are that the whole cast stands in a big circle, tossing an invisible ball of energy from one cast member to the next. When you get the “energy,” you have to dance.
“Basically it’s a way to remove your nervous energy and laugh out,” Derenthal said. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t make it in theater.”
As the two hurried back stage to get final notes from their director and get their nervous energy out, the student jazz band began warming up. Isabel Higgins, a senior who plays the trombone, said playing for the musical was fun because then the music was “with something, as opposed to just music by itself.”
Usually, Hunter purchases scripts and music for established shows, but with a clipped budget this year—Hunter said the performing arts program at Skyline got $404 to cover its 12 performances—she made the decision to write a new script and score the school’s own music. Hunter and the show’s choreographer, La Tonya Watts, added five characters, dance interludes and a Christmas theme to the classic Cinderella tale. Watts picked well-known songs for the show but didn’t have sheet music for the players, so she enlisted the help of some music students in the school’s performing arts academy.
A few students listened to each song, decided which instruments in their jazz ensemble would take which parts and then, with the help of a computer program called Sibilius, wrote the sheet music. “I basically did almost all of it,” Marcus Garrette, a senior, said. “For the past two weeks I stayed up until 4 a.m. to make sure I had working songs for these people.”
As the band put the finishing touches on their performance, the lobby filled with playgoers. Lisa Terrazas, mother of three, was there with a crew of eight girls aged 8 to 13. Ileana, Terrazas’ oldest, said she’d come with her mother to Skyline’s spring performance of West Side Story and “really, really liked it,” so they’d come back with an SUV full of young theater and dance enthusiasts.
Abriella, Terrazas’ youngest, sat in the front row with her best friend Anna Hamai. “We are very excited to see the show,” Anna said. “But we don’t like Cinderella.” She waved her hand dismissively. “It’s a princess story,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s that appropriate for little kids,” Abriella added. “Kissing isn’t that appropriate and they might be inspired to try to kiss anyone!”
Kissing, the girls agreed, was for college.
The lights dimmed, the band struck up a Christmas carol, and so proceeded a funky, rollicking rendition of Cinderella complete with a hip-hop prince getting down to “Bust A Move,” a wicked step-sister named Smelvalyn knocking everybody out with her viscous body odor, and a smart-talking Fairy Godmother belting out Rose Royce’s “Wishing on a Star.”
Though the plotline stuck quite closely to the original Cinderella tale, the story had been moved from far, far away to the “Kingdom of Skyland” at Christmas time. All of the performing arts taught at Skyline had their moment in the show—choral singers dressed as carolers performed a series of holiday favorites in between scenes of drama students performing as Cinderella’s ranting stepsisters and dance students as ballerina fairies.
Hunter also managed to add quite a few updated notions about leadership and femininity. Cinderella, for example, has rather large feet. “I mean, they are large,” her fairy godmother, played by Tatiana Robinson, said while conjuring a pair of glass slippers from stage right. “But that’s because a woman of substance needs a strong foundation.”
The onstage antics had Chris Dobbins, Skyline’s representative on the Oakland school board, smiling at intermission. “You can’t say enough about how drama influences kids,” he said. “This is the fun stuff.”
The Terrazas’ and their friends loved it, they reported eagerly as they made their way back up the theater aisle. “It was funny when they did the hip hop dancing!” 8-year-old Abriella said.
The show continues tonight and Saturday with evening performances at 7:30 p.m.. There is also a matinee on Saturday at 2 p.m.. Tickets are $10 at the door or $8 for children under 12.
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