That particularly English form of musical entertainment known as panto is back in North Hollywood for the holiday season, terrific news for the kiddies—and for any adults willing to act like a kid for ninety minutes of fractured fairytale fun.

Panto, for the uniformed, has absolutely nothing to do with what we Americans think of as pantomime, but is instead an amalgam of a familiar children’s tale, English Music Hall, pop culture references, audience participation, and plenty of puns and one-liners.

Last December’s Cinderella proved such a popular hit that Lythgoe Family Productions is not only bringing it back later this month, they’ve welcomed in December with an all new panto, A Snow White Christmas (though about the only Christmas reference I can recall was when someone quipped that the Queen is so evil, she tried to cancel it).

Like Cinderella, Snow White features some familiar faces (though not as many TV icons as its predecessor), most particularly Glee Project’s Lindsay Pearce as Snow White and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Marina Sirtis as Queen Sylvester Of North Hollywood, in addition to a prerecorded Neil Patrick Harris onscreen as the Magic Mirror. As before, there’s a boyishly cute court jester/host (Jonathan Meza as Muddles), a handsome prince (Jersey Boys’ Erich Bergen), and a troupe of dancers ranging from tiny tots to talented teens. Sadly, Snow White lacks Cinderella’s “panto dames,” i.e. you won’t see any male comedians in drag, though the seven smallest dancers do get to hide under Disney-esque dwarf costumes. Oh, and there’s an actual white pony named Blitzen!

In panto, audience participation is a must, so if you’re not prepared to cheer Snow White and the Prince, boo the Queen, and respond to Muddle’s “Hi boys and girls!” with an enthusiastic “Hi Muddles,” go ahead and be a panto-pooper, but beware. Muddles may just squirt you with his water pistol if you happen to be seated in the “splash zone.” And speaking of getting splashed, there’s a “spit gag” that I must confess had me in stitches each and every time Muddles tried to convince an unsuspecting victim that simply by repeating a rhyme, “honey will magically appear in your hands.” As if…

As for those pop tunes that are so much a part of panto, Snow White has its TV starlet heroine rocking out to Lady Gaga’s “Born That Way,” belting out Katy Perry’s “Firework,” and for those in a 1970s or ‘80s mood, leading the dwarfs in “Y.M.C.A.” (a salute to their “Young Miners’ Cottage Annex”) and duetting Glenn Madeiros’ “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” with Bergen’s Prince Harry (of Hancock Park). Bergen gives us a sensational rendition of Huey Lewis And The News’ “Power Of Love” and Sirtis as “The Queen Of North Hollywood” gets to sell Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” from TV’s True Blood. As for those dwarves, they duet Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” with Snow White and get to sing their very own version of Bruno Mars’ “Lazy Song.” There’s even an audience sing-along to the tune of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”

The Snow White story is pretty much as you remember it, though told panto style, with script (and jokes) by Kris Lythgoe. The Magic Mirror describes the evil Queen thusly: “She was nasty. She was demanding. She was from Beverly Hills,” and someone else wisecracks that the evil Queen “fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.”

Under Bonnie Lythgoes’ brisk direction, performances are all-around sparkling, and in the case of Sirtis’ Queen, the next best thing to having a Drag Queen onstage (and I mean that as a compliment). Pearce charms as Snow White and sings with a vocal power that makes it no wonder that she won hearts and votes on The Glee Project. Bergen, who earlier this year showed off his dramatic chops as a member of the Scenie-winning ensemble of The Temperamentals, is a handsome, scene-stealing Prince with power pipes and a signature pose that’s too fierce for words. Meza couldn’t be cuter or funnier or more charming as Muddles, and David Figlioli is a terrific Herman The Huntsman. Harris appears to have had great fun pre-taping the role of the Magic Mirror. The Spencer Liff Dancers (Italo Elgueta, Dashi Mitchell, Katie Reese, and Morgan Larsen) are a talented bunch, as are the assembled kiddies who double as dwarfs. (Harris and hubby David Burtka have prerecorded the dwarfs’ speaking voices with Jason Paige and Karissa Noel providing dwarf singing voices and other tracks.)

Spencer Liff’s choreography is bright and bouncy. Musical director Michael Orland scores high marks as well, with Matt Smedal on piano and Brian Boyce on drums providing live music in addition to the show’s prerecorded tracks. Phil Allen’s sound design is crisp and clear, and Donna Maas’s costumes are fairytale fantastic. David Crawford is sound mixer. Magic is by Ed Alonzo.

Nancy Severinsen is musical supervisor, John Holly stage manager, and Michael Vitale assistant stage manager. A Snow White Christmas is produced by The Lythgoes. Becky Baeling is producer. Chris Woods and Chris Wilcox are QDOS supervisors. Casting is by LFP Casting Dept.

Though not as pantotabulous as last year’s Cinderella (the drag queen stepsisters in particular are missed), Snow White nonetheless entertains and delights. Just be sure to leave all grown-up cynicism and sophistication at the door, let loose your inner child, and cheer and boo to your heart’s delight. Rest assured, you won’t be the only one not acting his or her age.

The El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 4, 2011

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