Lythgoe Family Productions returns to the Pasadena Playhouse for the third December in a row with Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight, this year’s Panto proving every bit as delightful to 2014 SoCal audiences of all ages as the distinctively English form of musical entertainment has been doing for the past two or three centuries in Jolly Old England.
“Panto,” for the uninitiated, has absolutely nothing to do with what 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 enough double entendre humor to make the show as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids.
Like countless pantos before it, Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight features all of the above, plus a) a “Panto Dame” in drag, b) a sidekick who insures the audience’s active, vocal participation, c) a slew of countless contemporary references and bawdy jokes, and d) as much singing and dancing as you’d get in the most popular Broadway show.
Ben Giroux returns to Panto At The Playhouse as our fourth-wall-breaking host Silly Billy, once again spouting one-liners galore, exhorting us “Boys and girls” to “Boo the Evil Fairy the minute you see her,” and this year having us keep watch over a wedding present everyone seems intent on pilfering. (“If you see anyone get near, it,” Silly Billy tells us, “just shout out my name!”)
As you might have guessed, audience participation is a must, so if you’re not prepared to cheer Princess Aurora (Olivia Holt), boo the maleficent Carabosse (Lucy Lawless), or respond to Silly Billy’s “Hi boys and girls!” with an enthusiastic “Hi, Silly Billy!” … well, get ready to participate actively and vocally, and the louder the volume the better. In other words, no panto-poopers allowed.
As for any children you might have in tow, the lucky ones among them may actually find themselves invited up on stage to be interviewed by Silly Billy … and return to their seats gift bags in hand.
Though any resemblance to Disney films animated or live-action, past or present, or Disney heroes and heroines, living or dead, is surely entirely coincidental, those who’ve seen Walt’s 1959 Technicolor-Technirama animated classic (or heard or read any other version of this tale as old as time) will recognize baby Aurora, Princess of Pasadena this time round, attended at her christening by a bevy of good fairies with the conspicuous exception of a deliberately uninvited evil fairy, who vows revenge with the following curse:
“Before the sun sets on her eighteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die!” (Insert villainous laugh.)
Not surprisingly His Majesty The King (Patrick Cassidy) orders every spinning wheel in Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank, Alhambra, and other surrounding communities burned, as if that is going to stop a sorceress as malevolent as Carabosse.
As for Princess Aurora’s love life, that would seem to be perking up considerably when a visit Into The Woods—the better to escape her ever-present Nanny Tickle (David Engel) and “sing with the animals”—has her running into the handsome young man of her dreams (Garrett Clayton), who fortunately for our fair princess, turns out to be none other than His Highness the Prince of neighboring Alhambra.
Fortunately too, like other fairy tale heroines before her, Aurora has her very own Good Fairy (Tamyra Gray) on her side, though even the best fairy’s magic can do only so much against a someone as monstrous as Carabosse.
Adults who fear they may be left out in an audience of tweens, tots, and toddlers can rest assured that there is plenty for the over-20/30/40/50/60/70 crowd—risqué puns and double entendres that will whish over the heads of the youngsters but provide more than a chuckle or two.
Of course it wouldn’t be panto without pop, and Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight is filled with one Top Ten hit after another, from smash hits sure to resonate with the iPod generation (LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” American Authors’ “Best Day Of My Life,” Jessie J’s “Domino,” John Legend’s “All Of Me,” Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” Bruno Mars’ “Marry You,” and Pharrell Williams’ Oscar-winning “Happy”) to 1960s-‘90s chart-toppers like The Turtles’ “Happy Together,” Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” Blondie’s “One Way Or Another,” Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger,” and Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” each one certain to ring older generations’ bells.
This year’s eclectic cast of theater/screen vets and newcomers appear to be having as great a time as the audience, and that includes triple-threat Disney/ABC Family stars Holt and Clayton, each more teen idoliciously swoon-worthy than the other; Lawless (aka Xena: Warrior Princess herself) chewing scenery as divinely evilly as it has ever been chewed; USC grad (and audience favorite) Giroux in infectiously winning form; Broadway song-and-dance stars Cassidy and Engel, the former the spitting image of his late great dad and a star in his own right, the latter giving quite possibly the most outlandishly delicious performance of his career as the wildest, wackiest Southern belle drag queen in Panto history; and American Idol’s sensationally-voiced Gray, with pipes that would do Whitney, Mariah, Celine, Cristina, or either of those Dreamgirls Jennifers proud.
Sleeping Beauty’s dance ensemble is a mixture of gifted up-and-comers (Audrey Case, J.P. Dubé, Tyrone A. Jackson, Ricky Jaime, Ali Nagy, and Clarice Ordaz), and a bunch of adorable tweens (Rachael Anderson, Yasmine Arya, Shavian Epps, Joshua Guerrero, Alexa Jozuka, and Daisy Stoneman alternating performances with Matt Moseley, Scarlette Palacios, Bailey Sok, Philip Solomon, Nadia Turner, and Ruby Turner), each of whom could give any adult MTV dance star a run for his or her money.
Quadruple Scenie winner Emma Degerstedt understudies the role of Aurora at certain scheduled performances.
All of the above execute Spencer Liff’s pizzazzy choreography with abundant energy, enthusiasm, and flair.
Sleeping Beauty is quite literally a Lythgoe Family Production, produced by The Lythgoes and Jason Haigh Ellery, directed with panache and a clear understanding of the genre by Bonnie Lythgoe, written with plenty of winks by Kris Lythgoe, and cast to perfection by Becky Lythgoe.
Musical director Michael Orland scores high marks as well, with assistant musical director Keith Harrison on keyboards and Brian Boyce on drums and percussion providing live music in addition to the show’s prerecorded tracks.
Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight looks as sensational as its predecessors with its fairytale sets (by Ian Wilson) and costumes (by Albermarle Productions), Chris Wilcox’s vivid lighting, and sound designer Steven Cahill making it all sound sensational.
Additional production kudos go out to music supervisor Nancy Severinsen, production stage manager Michael Vitale, LFP technical director Phil McCandlish, and company manager Kristen Hammack.
As in pantos past, adults are reminded to leave all grown-up cynicism and sophistication at the door, let loose their inner child, and cheer and boo to their heart’s delight. And if you, personally, find yourself shouting out warnings to the hero of impending danger, rest assured, you won’t be the only one not acting his or her age—and loving every second of it.
Simply put, Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight makes for Panto-tastic entertainment for any Winter Night (or children’s matinee for that matter).
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena. www.pasadenaplayhouse.org
December 11, 2014
Photos: Philicia Endelman