Aladdin rubs his lamp and holiday magic gets made as Laguna Playhouse presents its third-annual Lythgoe Family Panto, the absolutely fabulous Aladdin And His Winter Wish.

As any Brit will tell you, the centuries-old genre known as panto is 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, Aladdin And His Winter Wish features all of the above, plus a “Panto Dame” (i.e. a comedian in drag), a sidekick who talks to the audience and insures their active, vocal participation, a slew of countless contemporary references and bawdy jokes, and magic effects and transformations galore.

Broadway star Jason Gotay is street urchin Aladdin and Jason Earles (of Hannah Montana fame) is his brother Wishee Washee, whose effervescent mother Widow Twankey (SoCal treasure Jason Graae) runs the local Laundromat in their part of Arabia.

When the beautiful Princess Yasmin (Nickelodeon’s Kira Kosarin) somehow manages to escape the palace rather than wed the evil Abanazar (Aussie musical theater star Josh Adamson), who should she run across but our handsome hero. (Can you say “Love at first sight?”)

Unfortunately, in order to marry the daughter of a man as rich and powerful as the Sultan (Barry Pearl of Grease fame), Aladdin must first become a prince, an impossibility that might just become reality thanks to the arrival of his “Uncle Abanazar,” who promises Aladdin “riches beyond your wildest dreams” if only he acts as sidekick on his uncle’s latest mission.

All of which brings us to the Genie (L.A. favorite Jay Donnell), who upon being released from his lamp, grants Aladdin’s wish to become a wealthy Prince.

As for his desire to make Yasmin his bride, our hero had better get at that lickety-split before Abanazar’s powers of hypnosis make him the fiancé of choice.

It wouldn’t be panto without pop, and Aladdin And His Winter Wish is filled with one Top Ten hit after another, beginning with a great big Bollywood production number to the Slumdog Millionaire hit “Jai Ho,” the first of several high-energy dance sequences choreographed by So You Think You Can Dance whiz Spencer Liff.

Graae’s Widow Twankey rocks out to “Old Time Rock And Roll,” Gotay’s Aladdin vows that nothing is going to “Break My Stride” and duets Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” while flying above the stage on a magic carpet with Kosarin’s Yasmin by his side, and if this seems a bit all over the musical (and decade) map, welcome to the world of panto, a world no one knows better than the Lythgoes, as writer Kris Lythgoe and director Liff make abundantly clear.

There are plenty of contemporary pop references; Facebook, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and Instagram all get their mention. There’s a disappearing princess magic trick that will have you wide-mouthed in wonder. There’s plenty of fourth wall-breaking, so be prepared to participate actively and vocally, and the louder the volume the better. And children with “Golden Tickets” can expect to get invited up on stage.

Triple-threat Gotay is everything an Aladdin should be, dynamic, boyishly charming, handsome as all get-out, and a sensational singer/dancer to boot, and Kosarin could not make for a lovelier or silver-throated Yasmin.

Adamson’s supremely boo-worthy Abanazar, Earles’s eternally boyish Wishy-Washy, and Donnell’s ebullient Genie are all equally terrific, and Pearl makes the Sultan his inimitable own (with numerous Grease references to remind Boomers of his movie Doody).

Most memorable of all is Widow Twankey Graae’s simply divine channeling of Dame Edna Oliver, a outlandishly-frocked female whose mastery of the ad lib knows no equal.

Providing top-notch support throughout are dancers KT Madden and Kiana Wood (as Yasmin’s vivacious handmaidens), dance captain Alexis Gilbert (as a sexy, saucy Slave Of The Ring), Armando Estrada and Quinton Peron (as a couple of macho palace guards), and child performers Elena Dahms, Janai Johnson, Mikayla M. King, Jonah Smith, Jared Smith, and Katilin Yamano.

Musical director Keith Harrison not only elicits topnotch vocals but provides live musical accompaniment on keyboards.

Aladdin And His Winter Wish looks sensational on Ian Wilson’s Disneyesque sets complemented by Ablemarie Productions’ exotic, Technicoloriffic costumes and expertly lit by Glenn Powell, and sound designer Mike Ritchey makes the whole shebang sound just as great. Magic designer Ed Alonzo gets his own ovation for several amazing feats of wizardry.

Clarice Ordaz is associate choreographer and kids choreographer. Additional program credits go to Jill Barnes (company manager), Phil McCandlish (technical supervisor), Nancy Severinson (music clearance supervisor), Marly Hall (wardrobe supervisor), Michael Orland (music supervisor), and Andy Taylor (technical director).

Beauty And The Beast: A Christmas Rose is produced by The Lythgoes and Jason Haigh-Ellery. Patty Onagan is associate producer. Bree Sherry is production stage manager and Ross Jackson is assistant stage manager.

Casting is by Becky Baeling-Lythgoe. “Purple Team” children Lauren Aununcion, Sophia Domino, Sophia Garcia, Emily Madden, Kennie Shen, and Ashton Spaulding alternate with the “Purple Team” reviewed here.

With four pantos now running concurrently in both Southern California and Houston, Lythgoe Family Panto has come a long way since introducing L.A. to the genre back in 2010. Laguna Playhouse’s Aladdin And His Winter Wish may well be their best so far.

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The Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.

–Steven Stanley
December 14, 2017
Photos: Cathy Cunningham Photography


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