The distinctively English form of musical entertainment known as Panto is back for its fourth annual visit to the Pasadena Playhouse as Lithgoe Family Productions bring Southland audiences their delightfully performed and choreographed Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas, a surefire child-pleaser, albeit one less likely than pantos past to attract audiences thirteen and older.
Like A Snow White Christmas, Aladdin And His Winter Wish, and Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight, Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas takes a classic children’s tale and adds to it a combination of contemporary pop culture references, audience participation, and singing and dancing to Top Forty hits in a time-honored tradition stretching back two or three centuries in Jolly Old England.
Stage-and-screen favorite Parvesh Cheena sets the scene as a London watch vendor with a new product to hawk, a W.O.W., short for Watch On Wrist, a time-telling device that would be a good deal more marketable if it told the correct time more than twice a day.
It’s no wonder, then, that Mr. Darling (John O’Hurley of Seinfeld fame) would rather head on home for Christmas Eve than purchase a W.O.W.
There’s probably not a soul alive today, or at least not one alive in the Western world, who doesn’t know about the visitor in green (Kevin Quinn as Peter Pan) and his fairy bff (Chrissie Fit as Tinker Bell) who’ll soon be stopping by to meet Darling progeny Wendy (Sabrina Carpenter), John (Corey Fogelmanis), and Michael (August Maturo) and their canine nanny Nana (Newfoundlands Bonner and Gordon alternating in the role) and to invite them on a flight to Neverland.
Awaiting Peter and his Darling new friends in The Land Of Never are Peter’s best mates The Lost Boys (make that Lost Boys and Girls) and a band of pirates: the dastardly Captain Hook (O’Hurley), his sidekick Smee (Cheena), pirates Jack (Richy Jaime as Michael Jackson), Elvis (Chris Jarosz as The King), and Lenny (Mason Trueblood as John Lennon).
Completing the Neverlanders are Kikikawa Indian Tiger Lily (Nikki SooHoo), Kikikawa Chief (Adam Moss), and a pair of Kikikawa maidens (Clarice Ordaz and Til’ya Leatherwood).
As with pantos past, Broadway choreographic star Spencer Liff takes hits like “Uptown Funk,” “Live While We’re Young,” and “Time Of Our Lives” and turns them into guaranteed audience-pleasing full-cast production numbers.
Writer Kris Lythgoe once again reveals a talent for laugh-getting, particularly for those who know their pop culture and local geography. Take for instance Mr. Darling, who works for J Peterman (Seinfeld fans will get that one), or the watch vendor who sells his wares on the corner of Colorado Blvd. and Arroyo Parkway.
And then there are the puns … and plenty of them (“I told you to work, not twerk!”) and burlesque style patter (Tiger Lily: I teach you how to speak in Kikiwawa. Peter: How? Tiger Lily: So you already know.), and running gags like the one directed towards an audience member (“Gino” at the performance reviewed) whose name will be brought up more times than you can shake a stick at.
What previous pantos have had, and what Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas lacks, are a) a glamorous villainess like Sleeping Beauty’s maleficent Carabosse or Snow White’s wicked Queen Sylvester; b) a drag-o-licious Panto Dame like Sleeping Beauty’s Nanny Tickle or Aladdin’s Widow Twankey, c) the kind of double entendres that are a drag queen’s forte, and d) the degree of audience interaction featured in pantos past.
Still, Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas will likely captivate the 12-and-unders, and never more so than when Peter and the Darling children soar above the stage to audience oohs and aahs, with flying effects provided by ZFX, Inc.
Under Bonnie Lythgoe’s experienced direction, O’Hurley has great fun chewing the scenery in the tradition of Captains Hook before him and Cheena does winning work as always as his energetic sidekick.
Quinn gives Peter irresistible boyish spunk and promising legit vocals. Carpenter’s acting as Wendy may be one-note, but she’s got one humungous voice (and enough vibrato for three country stars put together). Fogelmanis and Maturo (who star with Carpenter on TV’s Girl Meets World) are charmers as the younger Darlings.
Bilingual ball-of-fire-on-wheels Fit plays Tinker Bell as the Mean Chica to end all Mean Chicas, and SooHoo makes for a feisty Tiger Lily.
Jaime, Jarosz, and Trueblood pay rib-tickling tribute to a trio of late great pop stars, though the script’s jokes revolving about Michael, Elvis, and Lenny aren’t all that clever.
Moss, Ordaz, and Leatherwood prove themselves topnotch dancers as do pint-sized Alexa Jozuka, Sebastian Jozuka, Jayden Long, Isaiah Morgan, Freddie Pomee, and Carlos Sanchez (at the performance reviewed), the latter six alternating with Yasmine Arya, Bryanna Fernandez, Joshua Guerrero, Matt Moseley, Kea PK, and Bailey Sok.
Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas benefits enormously from Michael Orland’s musical direction and arrangements, and from the Michael Orland band (Brian Boyce on percussion and assistant musical director Keith Harrison on keyboards) sweetening prerecorded dance tracks.
Scenic designer Ian Wilson, costume designer Dana Neillie, and lighting designer Chris Wilcox give Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas a colorful Disney-ready look, and Steven Cahill’s sound design is equally fine.
Additional program credits go to fight director Liff, LFP technical director Phil McCandish, music supervisor Nancy Severinsen, and casting director Becky Lythgoe, along with Anne L. Hitt (production stage manager), Julie Ann Renfro (assistant stage manager), Joe Witt (general manager), Brad Enlow (PPST technical director), and Hethyr “Red” Verhoef (PPST production manager).
Though less an adult-pleaser than previous pantos, Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas will nonetheless be right up elementary and lower middle school children’s alleys. As for the grownups in the house, well there’s always 2016 to bring back the divas and the drag.
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Ave., Pasadena.
December 9, 2015
Photos: Philicia Endelman