Belle discovers the beauty beneath a monster’s fur and horns as never before in the family-friendly holiday treat that is Beauty And The Beast: A Christmas Rose, the sixth Lythgoe Family Panto to visit Pasadena and the first to play the historic 2,997-seat Pasadena Civic.

The tale being recounted is every bit “as old as time” as the one Disney brought to animated life in 1991, but this time round it’s told in the uniquely British theatrical genre known as panto, an amalgam of a beloved fairy tale, English Music Hall, pop culture references, audience participation, magic effects and transformations, and enough double entendre humor to make the show as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids.

The “Beauty” of Beauty & the Beast: A Christmas Rose (written by Kris Lythgoe) is of course Belle (Kelli Berglund of TV’s Lab Rats fame), the book-loving daughter of Parisian merchant Marcel (Gedde Watanabe), who having lost all of his gold-filled ships in an ocean storm, now calls the village of Pasadena home.

Serving as our guide to Belle’s romantic adventures is town librarian Dame Derriere (Harrison White in drag), the genre’s requisite “Panto Dame,” whose plethora of puns (“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a historian. But my dad said there was no future in it.”) is matched only by those spouted by Gus (Jared Gertner), slacker sidekick to the gorgeous Captain Gus (James Snyder). (“I booked myself on a ten-week motivational course, but after just two weeks, I gave up.”)

When news arrives that one of Marcel’s ships has been found, Belle’s father heads off for Paris, a destination he never reaches thanks to the pack of hungry wolves who soon have him seeking shelter in the castle our beastly antihero calls home.

Before long, Belle has gone in search of Papa, persuaded Beast to let her take his place, and been welcomed by palace chef Coco Chanel (White) and butler Louis Vuiton (John Tartaglia), who inform her of the curse that turned their master into a monster and has kept them and the rest of the household staff prisoners.

Now all Belle has to do is fall for Beast and this “tale as old as time” will end happily ever after.

Following Lythgoe Family Panto tradition, Beauty And The Beast: A Christmas Rose features a selection of Top 40 radio’s Greatest Hits including the BeeGees’ “Staying Alive” (that has Gus singing and dancing his own praises), The Chainsmokers & Coldplay’s “Something Just Like This” (that has Belle declaring in no uncertain terms that she’s “not looking for somebody with some superhuman gifts, some superhero, some fairytale bliss. Just something I can turn to, somebody I can kiss”), and Beast’s song-and-dance rendition of Maroon 5’s “Animals.” (“Baby I’m preying on you tonight, hunt you down eat you alive, just like animals.)

La La Land’s Mandy Moore choreographs one infections music-video-ready showstopper after another, production numbers that feature some of the best young dancers in town (Jennifer Bermeo, Annie Gratton, Brandon Hudson, Darnell White, Jr., Wally Pham, dance captain Jessica Richens, Alysse Rockett, and Mason Trueblood) and some equally terrific child performers (Brooklyn Bustamante, Cody Copley, Joshua E. Guerrero, Lexi Hernandez, Layla Krugh, and Camaron Steen at the performance reviewed).

Sheldon Epps directs with the “savoir flair” you’d expect from the man whose Pasadena Playhouse hosted Lythgoe Family Panto the past five Christmases, eliciting one delicious performance after another.

Berglund’s Belle is as pretty as a picture and sings with teen idol pipes opposite a powerful Platt, who allows Beast’s inner beauty to shine as he vocalizes with Broadway’s best.

Watanabe makes for a wonderfully wacky Marcel, Gertner’s clearly besotted Pierre charms both audience members and the big-bucks “Golden Ticket” audience tots who get to share the stage with him, and Tartaglia’s très français Louis gets to show off the puppetry skills that made him a Broadway star in Avenue Q.

Best of all are White’s absolutely fabulous Dame Derriere/Coco Chanel and Snyder’s golden-throated, irresistibly self-absorbed Gus.

In fact, the only thing missing from this particular Panto is a bona fide villain to boo and hiss. (Gus is too darned sexy for that.)

Beauty And The Beast: A Christmas Rose looks fabulous thanks to Ian Wilson’s storybook set, Ablemarle’s outlandishly imaginative costumes (with additional designs by Michèle Young), and Paul Lee’s Technicolorful lighting design, and despite occasional mike glitches, it sounds terrific too thanks to musical director-arranger Michael Orland, band members Brian Boyce, Orland, and Doug Peck, and sound designer Joe Fiorello.

Additional program credits go to Jill Barnes (company manager), Phil McCandlish (technical director), Nancy Severinson (music clearance supervisor), and Swazzle Inc. (Beast head design/build).

Beauty And The Beast: A Christmas Rose is produced by Lythgoe Family Panto & Jason Haigh-Ellery and supervising director Bonnie Lythgoe. Patty Onagan is associate producer. Vernon Willet is production stage manager and Jade Cagalawan is assistant stage manager.

Casting is by Becky Lythgoe. “Red Team” children Yasmine Arya, Jedd F Berina, Bryanna Fernandez, Madison Han, Emmanuel Martin Lewis, and Caden Miller alternate with the “Pink Team” reviewed here.

The Brits may have made Panto an annual holiday event centuries before the Lythgoe family brought it stateside, but it’s a Pasadena tradition now too. Check out Beauty And The Beast: A Christmas Rose and you’ll see why.

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Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 300 East Green Street, Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
December 13, 2017
Photos: Philicia Endelman


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