Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Panto at the Playhouse: Silly Fun for the Holidays

The cast of "Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight", a Panto at the (Pasadena) Playhouse

The cast of “Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight”, a Panto at the (Pasadena) Playhouse

In Britain, the “panto” has been a beloved theatrical style since the early 18th century. Always a comedy, somewhere between burlesque and Saturday Night Live, it contains specific characters, silly comic stylings and a few hard-and-fast traditions. The most prominent of these is a character classified as “The Dame”: an over-the-top, overtly commanding female always played by a man. Though the jokes change with the era, and the popular songs injected into the piece shift with the times as well, the panto continues to be an integral form of entertainment in the British world.

Three years ago, the Pasadena Playhouse and the Lythgoe family of entertainment professionals initiated the British panto as a new, and continuing holiday tradition: Panto at the Playhouse. The new rendition has just opened for everyone’s entertainment. This year the show is “Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight,” as scripted by Kris Lythgoe and directed by Bonnie Lythgoe. A stellar cast provide plenty of silliness, references to everything from Disney to current events, and provides enough magic and romance for the youngsters to find plenty of fun.

Olivia Holt is Aurora, the princess under threat of dying before her 18th birthday. Garrett Clayton is the rather self-focused handsome Prince of Alhambra, who is to wed her. Patrick Cassidy is the King of Pasadena, and Aurora’s father. And from here it gets even sillier. Ben Giroux’s Silly Billy is a full-blown borscht belt comic, supposedly guarding Aurora, and supposedly madly in love with her. David Engel provides the Dame part, as Aurora’s Nanny Tickle. The evil fairy who doomed Aurora to death, Carabosse, is played by Lucy Lawless, while the Good Fairy who counters her is Tamyra Gray. These folks are surrounded by a fine troupe of professional adult dancers, and one of two teams of child performers as well, who provide villagers, various lords, ladies, soldiers and fairies necessary to the tale.

The show is loosely constructed, with reason. The extremely episodic script’s jokes are there to make the adults laugh, while the children are captivated by the storyline. Kids are encouraged, and some buy wands and swords in the patio to wave at magical moments. There’s an orchestra of sorts, and the songs – popular stuff of the last few decades, ranging from “Eye of the Tiger” to “All of Me” to “Happy” – are sung with enthusiasm if not always with great style. That is, except for a beautifully stylish “O Holy Night” rendered by Gray toward the show’s close.

Choreographer Spencer Liff manages considerable charm with his dancers, and Albermarle Productions has provided costumes which add to the comedy and set the storyline.

It can be a great entertainment to watch good actors being intentionally, freely silly. This is one of those kinds of shows. There will be no depth, but considerable laughter. Look out for occasional ad libs, and for the comfort everyone has on stage. Heck, Lawless even gets in a sideways reference to her television sidekick (to considerable cheering from the audience). Though some of the comedy is filled with double entendre, I would not hesitate to bring the kids. Like old Warner Brothers cartoons, the adult humor elements merely keep the parents engaged while the kids have a good time watching the characters do their thing.

In short, “Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight” is fun, extremely light, kid-friendly and engaging. Is it great art? No. Is Panto at the Playhouse likely to become a long-standing tradition? Yes, and with reason. See for yourself. Come early, and explore the activities in the Playhouse community center, which sometimes even include a visit from Santa. On Saturdays and Sundays, neighboring redwhite+bluezz Jazz Club hosts a character breakfast for a separate fee.

What: “Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight” When: Through January 4, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and Monday, December 29, 12 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sundays, with 4 p.m. performances also on December 24, 26 and 30 Where: The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. in Pasadena How Much: $29 – $127, with special Gold Tickets (limited to 10 per performance, for an added $50 above the ticket price) which let a child on stage briefly Info: (626) 356-7529 or http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

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