Lythgoe Family Panto and the Laguna Playhouse present a fun and enjoyable version of Beauty and the Beast for the holidays. The English tradition of Panto, meaning it is an interactive, audience-participating show, is written by Kris Lithgoe, Directed by Sheldon Epps, Choreographed by Mandy Moore, with Musical Direction by Keith Harrison. With that impressive roster, it is a sure-fire evening of silly humor, great production numbers, unexpected songs and a meaningful message perfect for the holiday season.
The cast of characters include Belle, played marvelously by Ashley Argota, the Beast, (Thomas Hobson) who changes from a mean and bitter cursed loner, hiding away in his castle to a caring, empathetic and princely hero; Gus (Heath Calvert) the obnoxiously arrogant handsome wooer of Belle, Pierre (Riley Costello) Gus's faithful and comical sidekick, Dame Derrier, an hysterically funny book shop owner in the Village, who is nothing short of delightful, also doubling as Coco Chanel, the chef at the Beast's castle, who makes the best crepes in the world, played to the hilt by Roland Rusinek; Louis Vuitton, a crazy, energetic French butler, hysterically played by David Engel, of "Forever Plaid" and "La Cage Aux Folles" fame, and who has a most powerful voice, singing a gorgeous "La Vie En Rose" with passion and gusto; as well as Marcel, father of Belle, played by Andrew Barnicle, with just the right blend of sweetness and fatherly concern.
The many songs worked into the plot were surprisingly apropos to the storyline, which was set in France and modern day Laguna, or Lagoonia, with references all throughout to sites known to the residents in the audience and poked fun at situations one might find themselves in in the area. Some of the titles, to give you an idea of how wonderfully absurd the characters were portrayed, were "Stayin' Alive," "All Night Long," "I'm Sexy and I Know It," Gus's Ode to himself, "We're Not Gonna Take It," and "I'm a Believer," sung by Belle and The Beast (turned back into a handsome Prince after the curse was lifted).
What made this show even more entertaining was keeping the audience involved and made part of the show, from beginning to end. For instance, every time Gus entered or exited the stage, his stalwart companion, Pierre, had the audience scream out "he's the sexiest man in Laguna." There were many goofy asides that kept the audience laughing, and most of the characters came out into the audience at some point and interacted with them, giving them a chance to join in the shenanigans.
Everyone in the cast was multi-talented and it was obvious they relished every moment of every scene, having an infectious effect on all of us. The choreography was splendid and the dancers were certainly up to the task, performing with energy and conviction, covering a multitude of styles and tempos.
The costumes were of particular creativeness, my favorites being Dame Derrier's wacky attire, complete with confetti for hair and books on top of her head, sewn into her hat, and Belle's stunning sparkly yellow gown at the end of the second Act. Albermarle outdid themselves.
The sets were impressive and perfectly suited to each scene; imaginative and detailed, carefully designed and constructed by Ian Wilson, with lighting complimenting them, by Glenn Powell.
At the end of the show, there was a sing-along with everyone in the house, to the tune of "Jingle Bells" (or Belles, in this case) led by the effervescent Riley Costello (Pierre). A great way to end this fun-loving show!
The show continues through December 30th, so pick up your tickets to join in the festivities, and have a Merry, Merry Christmas.