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Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight - WOW!

Lythgoe Family Panto is back in the OC as the Laguna Playhouse treats kids of all ages to Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight, Orange County’s most song, dance, and laugh-packed December treat.

Anyone who’s seen Disney’s Cinderella (or heard or read any other version of this tale as old as time) will recognize Princess Aurora, attended at her christening by a bevy of good fairies with the conspicuous exception of a deliberately uninvited evil fairy, who vows revenge.

Not surprisingly, His Majesty the King of Laguna (Barry Pearl) orders every spinning wheel from Costa Mesa to Santa Ana to Tustin burned in hopes of preventing the malevolent Carabosse (Joely Fisher) from putting almost-eighteen Aurora (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) to sleep for a hundred years.

Meanwhile, an afternoon escape to the woods—the better to escape her ever-present Nanny Tickle (“panto dame” Jeff Sumner)—has Aurora running into the handsome young man of her dreams (Conor Guzman), who fortunately for our fair princess turns out to be none other than His Highness the Prince of Irvine.

Fortunately too, like other fairy tale heroines before her, Aurora has her very own Good Fairy (Vonzell Solomon) on her side, though even the best fairy’s magic can do only so much against as vile a villainess as Carabosse.

Serving as our fourth-wall-breaking host is Silly Billy (Benjamin Schrader), Sleeping Beauty’s self-declared “personal bodyguard and knight in shining armor,” exhorting us to “boo the Evil Fairy the minute you see her,” and having us keep watch over a wedding present everyone seems intent on pilfering. (“If you see anyone get near, it,” Silly Billy tells us, “just shout out my name!”)

As in centuries of British pantos past, audience participation is a must, so if you’re not prepared to cheer Princess Aurora, boo the maleficent Carabosse, or respond to Silly Billy’s “Hi boys and girls!” with an enthusiastic “Hi, Silly Billy!” … well, get ready to participate actively and vocally, and the louder the volume the better. In other words, no panto-poopers allowed.

Kris Lythgoe’s joke-packed script ensures grown-up enjoyment to match that of the twelve-and-under set.

Among the Knights of the Square Table poised to protect Aurora on her birthday/wedding day are Sir Loin de Boeuf (“I hear he’s tough”) and Sir Cumferance (“Very well rounded”). Silly Billy brags that he once dated a cross-eyed girl, “but she started seeing somebody behind her own back.” Nanny Tickle remains proud of her hourglass figure though admittedly “some of the sand has shifted a little bit.”

Like last year’s A Snow White Christmas, Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight is filled with one Top Ten favorite after another, from smash hits sure to resonate with the iPod generation (LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” Bruno Mars’ “Marry You,” and Pharrell Williams’ Oscar-winning “Happy”) to 1960s-‘90s chart-toppers like The Turtles’ “Happy Together,” Blondie’s “One Way Or Another,” and Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” equally certain to ring older generations’ bells.

Under Linda Goodrich’s astute direction, performances could not be more delightful.

Dolphin’s Tale rising star Zuehlsdorff is as Aurora-dorable as fairy tale princesses get opposite triple-threat Guzman’s handsome, funny, and vocally blessed Prince (who can dance a mean “Footloose” to boot).

Fisher’s Carabosse proves as sensational a scenery-chewer as she is a pop belter, Schrader (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ show-stealing Freddy) adds his own irresistible brand of wild-and-crazy wackiness to Silly Billy, a hilarious Sumner gives every aging Southern Belle a run for her Confederate dollars as Nanny Tickle, Soloman’s Good Fairy hits high notes in “Hero” and “Oh Holy Night” that would do Mariah proud, and Pearl is as always a comedic gem as Laguna’s King.

Sleeping Beauty’s dance ensemble is a mixture of exceedingly expert up-and-comers (Levi Curtis, Cedric Dodd, dance captain Talia-Lynn Prairie, and Alyse Rockett), and terrifically talented tweens (Alanah Aguilar, Izabella Aguilar, Aspen Cunningham, Emily Madden, Diego Pasillas, and Michael Reynosa at the performance reviewed*), all of whom execute Spencer Liff’s eclectic, music video-ready choreography with high-energy pizzazz.

Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight features fairytale sets by Ian Wilson, fabulous costumes by Albermarle. Florencia Carrizo, and Donna Moss, and vivid lighting by Chris Wilcox. Musical director Michael Sobie and bandmate Daniel Filippi provide topnotch live musical accompaniment (and occasional sound effects).

Michael Orland is musical supervisor, Phil McCandlish is technical director, and Andy Tyler is technical director. Jill Gold is production stage manager. Casting is by Becky Lythgoe.

Adults are reminded to leave all grown-up cynicism at the door, let loose their inner child, and cheer and boo to their heart’s delight. With Panto back at the Playhouse, there’s no funner (or funnier) way to spend a Winter Night or Kiddie Matinee than with Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight.

*Appearing at alternating performances will be Sophia Albornoz, Stephanie LaLumandier, Zoe Phan, Brianna Racewicz, Jarod Smith, and Jonah smith.