by Steven Stanley

December 5, 2019


Laguna Playhouse welcomes Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas for its fifth-annual foray into the magical, mirthful, melodious world of what the Brits call Panto.

Like A Snow White Christmas, Sleeping Beauty And Her Winter Knight, Aladdin And His Winter Wish, Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas, and last year’s Beauty And The Beast: A Christmas Rose before it, Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas takes a classic children’s tale and adds to it a mix of contemporary pop culture references and audience participation along with a whole lot of singing and dancing to Top Forty hits in a time-honored tradition stretching back two or three centuries in Jolly Old England.

Lythgoe Family Panto favorite Ben Giroux sets the scene as a London watch vendor with a new product to hawk, a W.O.W., short for Watch On Wrist, a time-telling device that would be a good deal more marketable if it told the correct time more than twice a day.

It’s no wonder, then, that Mr. Darling (John O’Hurley of Seinfeld fame) would rather head on home for Christmas Eve than purchase a W.O.W.

It’s no wonder either that when visitor in green (Lincoln Clauss as Peter Pan) and his fairy bff (Ashley Argota as Tinker Bell) meet Darling progeny Wendy (Bryce Charles), John (Dakota Lucas), and Michael (Daniel Peters) and their canine nanny Nana, a flight to Neverland is soon to ensue.

Awaiting Peter and the Darlings in The Land Of Never are Peter’s best mates (aka The Lost Boys) and the wackiest band of pirates ever, led by the deliciously dastardly Captain Hook (O’Hurley) and completed by sidekick Smee (Giroux) and a trio of underlings bearing an uncanny resemblance to rock/pop icons Michael Jackson (Casá G. as Pirate Jack), The King (Baden Silva as Pirate Elvis), and a Beatle (Mason Trueblood as Pirate Lennon), with Kikikawa Indian Tiger Lily (Clarice Ordaz), Chief Kikikawa (Raymond Ejiofor), and a curvy Kikikawa maiden (Angel Inniss) completing the cast of Neverlanders.

Writer Kris Lythgoe once again reveals a talent for laugh-getting, particularly for those who know their pop culture and local geography. (OC residents will get a kick out of jibes poked at Mission Viejo and Lake Forest.)

Meanwhile, Top Forty hits like “Uptown Funk,” “Live While We’re Young,” and “Time Of Our Lives” get transformed into audience-pleasing full-cast production numbers choreographed with abundant zing by Kitty McNamee.

The latest Lythgoe panto may not feature a glamorous villainess like Sleeping Beauty’s maleficent Carabosse or a drag-o-licious Panto Dame like Sleeping Beauty’s Nanny Tickle, but there’s no shortage of laughs even without these panto staples thanks to a plethora of puns, burlesque-style patter, and running gags like the one directed towards an audience member whose name (“Suzy” at the performance reviewed) will be brought up more times than you can shake a stick at.

Under BT McNicholl’s expert direction, O’Hurley has great fun chewing the scenery in the tradition of Captains Hook before him and Giroux not only makes for the most comical of sidekicks, he proves himself an ad lib whiz even when the “Golden Ticket” tots invited up on stage respond to his questions with one-word answers, as on Opening Night.

On the fast-track to musical theater stardom, 2017 Ball University grad Clauss makes for an irresistibly spunky Peter and Charles the warmest and most winning of Wendys, with Argota’s pixie-licious Tinker Bell giving movie Mean Girls a run for their money, and all three show off power pipes to match Broadway’s best.

Speaking of which, just wait the tweentastic Lotus’s John reveals his The Voice-ready vocals, with Peters’ adorable Michael completing the Darling brood.

G. and Silva have great fun as Michael and Elvis in pirate mode, and a particularly winning Trueblood scores multiple laughs with dialog straight out of the Beatles catalog of song.

Ordaz’s fabulously feisty Tiger Lily displays music-video-ready dance moves opposite the equally talented Ejiofor, G., Inniss, Silva, and Trueblood, with Green Team child performers Kaili Kester, Katie Lam, Mattie Pieters, Rylee Reno, and Nicholas Saulis giving them a run for their pirates’ booty.

Musical director Doug Peck provides polished onstage keyboard accompaniment sweetened during dance numbers by prerecorded tracks.

Scenic designer Ian Wilson, costume designer Kim Critchley, and lighting designer Chris Wilcox give Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas a colorful Disney-ready look, and Kate Wecker’s sound design is equally fine.

Last but not least, Peter does indeed take flight thanks to ZFX, Inc.

Vernon Willet is production stage manager and Jessica Keasberry is assistant stage manager. Yellow Team children Aubrey Avella, Ava Abeyta, Jaedon Diaz, and Hunter Ludeed take over kids’ roles every other day, with Pieters appearing at all performances.

Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas is produced by Becky Lythgoe and Bonnie Lythgoe. Alex Day and Joe Witt are associate producers.

Children ten and under may once again be the loudest and most exuberant Laguna Playhouse ticket holders this holiday season, but with this year’s Lythgoe Panto once again bringing out the kid in even the most seasoned audience member, Peter Pan And Tinker Bell – A Pirates Christmas makes it five annual winners in a row for Panto At The Playhouse.