Snow White and her Seven Little Men have set up shop down Laguna Beach way as Lythgoe Family Productions delight audiences of all ages with their premier panto, A Snow White Christmas, pitch-perfectly performed by TV stars Lindsay Pearce and Marina Sirtis and a castful of sensational stage vets and musical theater up-and-comers.
For those of who might be scratching your heads at hearing the word “panto” for the first time, here’s what you need to know.
The particularly English form of musical entertainment known as panto 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.
Pearce (Glee, Glee Project, and the upcoming Recovery Road) stars as Snow White Of Laguna opposite Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Marina Sirtis as Queen Sylvester Of North Hollywood, with a prerecorded Neil Patrick Harris adding his own screen presence as the Magic Mirror.
Add to that a boyishly cute court jester/host (Jonathan Meza as Muddles), a handsome prince (James Royce Edwards as Prince Harry of Hermosa), England’s own Neil Dale as Herman The Huntsman, and a troupe of dancers ranging from tiny tots to talented 20somethings and you’ve got a can’t-beat ensemble and an indefatigable one at that. (The performance reviewed was their third 2-plus-hour show in a single day but you’d never have guessed from their spontaneity and freshness.)
The Snow White story is pretty much as you remember it, though told panto style with script (and jokes) by Kris Lythgoe, many of them tailored to its current Orange County setting, though the Wicked Queen remains a Beverly Hills native, and since it is the divine Sirtis in the role, you can expect plenty of Star Trek references amidst the dwarf jokes.
As with every panto in the years since the genre was born two or three centuries ago, 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 “Hiya boys and girls!” with an enthusiastic “Hiya 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 keeps on getting chuckles each and every time Muddles tries to convince an unsuspecting victim that simply by repeating a rhyme, “Honey will magically appear in your hands.” As if…
It wouldn’t be a Lythgoe Family Panto without a slew of Top 40 hits past and present, and A Snow White Christmas has got a whole bunch of them.
The vocally-blessed Pearce rocks out to Lady Gaga’s “Born That Way” and Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams,” takes it down a notch with Taylor Swift’s empowering “Mean,” leads the dwarfs in “Y.M.C.A.” (a salute to their “Young Miners’ Cottage Annex”), and duets Glenn Madeiros’ “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” with Edwards, who gives us a stirring rendition of Huey Lewis And The News’ “Power Of Love”
Sirtis belts out another Swift hit “Bad Blood,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and the Nina Simone classic “I Put A Spell On You.”
As for those dwarves, they get to sing their very own version of Bruno Mars’ “Lazy Song.” the seven smallest dancers hidden under Disney-esque dwarf costumes (though minus character names that are most likely property of Walt).
There’s even an audience sing-along to the tune of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”
Director Chris Baldock has elicited one delicious performance after another, and with audience-inspired ad libs making each Snow White Christmas unique, there’s no fresher show around.
Pearce (who’s got a pair of Scenies for her dramatic turns in Spring Awakening and bare a rock musical) couldn’t make for a more fetching Snow White, and wow can this princess sing!
Edwards, himself a Scenie winner for his multiple roles in Little Shop Of Horrors, plays Prince Harry with swoon-worthy charm, great big pipes (and biceps), and Instagram-worthy poses that would do Gaston proud.
Meza couldn’t be cuter or funnier or more adorable as Muddles, a role he has perfected in five different productions, yet one that feels as sparklingly new as if he were playing the muddle-headed chap for the first time.
The multitalented Dale makes for a splendid Herman The Huntsman, while Harris appears to have enjoyed pre-taping the role of the Magic Mirror, aided by a couple of cameo screen appearances by Dancing With The Stars’ Nigel Lythgoe and Bruno Tonioli.
Dance ensemble members Brandon Beltran, Zarina Cabanilla, Levi Curtis, KT Madden, Talia-Lynn Prairie, and Tanner Richins are talented enough to be on Dancing With The Stars themselves, and the charismatic Richins gets extra points for his Book Of Mormon cameo.
Pintsized Alanah Aguilar, Izabella Aguilar, Stephanie Lalumandier, Kenia Olvera, Zoe Phan, Michael Reynosa, and Jonah Smith* are terrific young dancers too, and have great fun under their dwarf masks as (not necessarily in the following order) Cheerful, Drowsy, Dummy, Grouchy, Physician, Sheepish, and Sneezy. (Sorry Mr. Disney, I couldn’t find a synonym for the last one.)
Resident Lythgoe Family choreographer Spencer Liff’s dance steps reveal the young Broadway vet’s king-sized gifts, as well as the talents of his dancers.
Michael Sobie scores high marks, not just as music director but as conductor-keyboardist, with Omar D. Brancato (2nd keyboard) and Daniel Filippi (drums) joining Sobie in providing live music in addition to the show’s prerecorded tracks.
Julia Clancey, Kleev Guessford, and Donna Maas’s costumes and Ian Wilson’s scenic design are both fairytale fantastic, and vividly lit by Chris Wilcox. Juan Sanson’s sound design is crisp and clear. Michael Orland (music supervision and arrangements) and Phil MacKandish (LFP technical director) score high as well.
A Snow White Christmas is produced by The Lythgoe Family Productions.
There may be other pantos playing round town this holiday season, but A Snow White Christmas is the one to see. Just make sure you leave all grown-up cynicism and sophistication at the door, let loose your inner child, and cheer and boo to your heart’s delight.
You won’t be the only one having a Snow White ball!
Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.
December 12, 2105
Photos: Cathy Cunningham
*at the performance reviewed, alterating with Sophia Albornoz, Aspen Cunningham, Evan Hernandez, Lexi Hernandez, Emily Madden, Diego Pasillas, and Brianna Brewicz.