Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight - The Ultimate Holiday Treat

L-R: David Engel, Ben Giroux, Garrett Clayton, Olivia Holt, Lucy Lawless
and Patrick Cassidy. Photos by Philicia Endelman.

The faces couldn’t get any fresher and the energy couldn’t be any brighter in Lythgoe Family Productions and the Pasadena Playhouse’s latest Panto at the Playhouse, Sleeping Beauty and her Winter Knight. The show is Adorable with a capital A!, and packed with top-notch talent that includes a Disney pop princess (Olivia Holt), a teenage heartthrob (Garrett Clayton), a beautiful Amazonian villainess (Lucy Lawless), an American Idol belter (Tamyra Gray), a silver fox of a king (Patrick Cassidy), a pint-size television comic (Ben Giroux) and a multi-talented Broadway veteran (David Engel).

Add some surprisingly athletic young dancers and a storybook production design that conjures up a candy-colored fairytale kingdom in all its pop-up glory and you’ve got the kind of holiday production that will put tickets to Panto at the Playhouse on everyone’s Christmas wish list for years to come.

The Lythgoes have spared no expense in bringing their holiday version of the British panto to life for American audiences. Beautifully written by Kris Lythgoe, and directed by Bonnie Lythgoe to highlight the show’s delightful tongue-in-cheek humor, it sparkles with life while moving steadily to what can only be a happily-ever-after ending.

Like previous pantos A Snow White Christmas and Aladdin and His Winter Wish, there is a villain, in this case Lawless as the evil fairy Carabosse who placed a curse on Princess Aurora (Holt) at her birth that one day she would prick her finger on a spindle and die. Though she couldn’t undo the curse, the Good Fairy (Gray) was able to change the prophecy so instead of dying, the princess would fall into a sleep that would last for a hundred years. The only thing that would be able to break the curse would be a true love’s kiss.

Tamyra Gray and Lucy Lawless

Now, sixteen years later, the kingdom is about to celebrate Aurora’s birthday and her father, the King of Pasadena (Cassidy) is ready to announce her arranged marriage to the Prince of Alhambra (Clayton). Nanny Tickle (Engel) and Silly Billy, her personal bodyguard, have kept their young charge safe for many years but a misunderstanding causes Nanny to be dismissed from her duties and together they leave the kingdom.

While the final party preparations are taking place, Aurora slips away to sing to the animals in the forest, falls in love with a young stranger she doesn’t realize is really her Prince on his way to meet her, and Carabosse tricks the young man into delivering a spinning wheel to the palace for the party. When Aurora opens the gift, she does prick her finger and falls into a sleep; Carabosse steals the Prince so he cannot undo the curse; and the Good Fairy searches for Nanny Tickle and Billy to help them rescue the Prince and save the Princess. All will be made right by the end of the story and much good fun takes place along the way.

Happily, the show contains something for everyone. The adults get plenty of innuendo-filled humor that goes over the heads of the little ones while the kids are thoroughly engaged by magical effects, pop music, and audience interaction that includes them in the fun.

Spencer Liff’s smart choreography is performed by some pretty exceptional kid and adult dancers, and includes everything from hip hop to ballet to modern sequences. Their very first number had the audience screaming and everyone around me commenting how talented they were.

Engel and Giroux make a hilarious comedy duo as Nanny Tickle and pun-happy Silly Billy. The voice Engel uses for the buxom matriarch is a character all its own and hearing him sing Gretchen Wilson’s “Here For The Party” with three cowboy dancers in tow lets you know from the very beginning that this show is meant to be a comedy. Giroux is responsible for the bulk of the audience participation and is a pro at adlibbing when the opportunity for an in-the-moment joke appears. Plus, you just have to see him as superhero Turkey Boy.

And who knew Xena Warrior Princess could sing! Lawless wails on Debbie Harry’s “One Way or Another” like a true ‘80s punk rocker. Holt is a breath of fresh air as Aurora and Clayton’s Prince is as funny as he is charming. Musical director Michael Orland gets it absolutely right with each of his character-inspired song choices and has also created some especially dynamic arrangements. Holt’s “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors is a joy; his party version of PharrellHappy” turns to poignant underscoring as Nanny Tickle and Billy leave the castle; and Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” makes the best dance party ever, which gives Cassidy a chance to show off Kevin Bacon’s movie footwork. By the time Clayton and Holt get to “Marry You” by Bruno Mars, they have completely enchanted the audience and more than earned their happy ending. Gray caps off the performance with a final Christmas showstopper, O Holy Night.

Like everyone else around us, we were laughing and shouting at the characters, fully involved in the interactive style of the panto in which the audience is encouraged to cheer the good guys and boo the villains. The fast-paced show is a lovely combination of humor and spectacle, sweet story and stunning choreography, all set to a musical playlist that makes it entirely fresh and modern. Its the kind of wholesome entertainment that has quickly made the Pasadena Playhouse the go-to destination for families during the holidays.

Olivia Holt and Garrett Clayton

Lucy Lawless

Tamyra Gray, Patrick Cassidy, Olivia Holt, Garrett Clayton, Ben Giroux,
David Engel and Lucy Lawless

Olivia Holt, Patrick Cassidy and Company

Garrett Clayton, Lucy Lawless and Company

December 10, 2014 - January 4, 2015

Pasadena Playhouse
39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101
Tickets: (626) 356-7529 or
Performance schedule: Mon at 7:30 pm (Dec. 29 only); Tues – Fri at 7:30 pm; Sat at 12:00 pm, 4:00 pm and 7:30 pm; and Sun at 12:00 pm and 4:00 pm; Special matinees -- Wed, Dec 24 at 4:00 pm; Fri, Dec 26 at 4:00 pm; Tues, Dec 30 at 4:00 pm. (No performances Dec 31, Jan 1 & 2.)

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