Written by Daniella Litvak
“A panto is a traditional fairy tale complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters and lots of audience participation.” Panto is the word being used to describe Laguna Playhouse’s Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight, and it is apt.
Based off the other classic fairy tale where a prince has to kiss a comatose princess, Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight (hereafter referred to as “Sleeping Beauty”) begins when the evil fairy Carabosse (Joely Fisher) casts a curse on the baby Princess Aurora. By her 18th birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on a spindle and die. Fortunately, the Good Fairy (Vonzell Solomon) is around to change the curse so that if Aurora does prick her finger, she will just fall asleep for a 100 years. Despite this reassurance, Aurora’s father —the King (Barry Pearl) — enlists the aid of Nanny Tickle (Jeff Sumner) and Silly Billy (Ben Schrader) to be the princess’ nanny and bodyguard. For almost 18 years Aurora (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) has been kept safe, but with her 18th birthday/wedding to the Prince (Conor Guzman) almost here, Carabosse is not about to let her last chance for the curse to take effect slip away.
The show focuses more on its gags, puns and the individual scenes than its story. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, the execution is hit or miss. For example there is a scene (and some later lines) devoted to Silly Billy’s love life, but it neither foreshadows a subversive plot twist nor does it have any sort of resolution. The scene itself is okay, but in hindsight it feels like padding. Another scene that brought the show’s momentum to a halt was when the story was paused for a sing-a-long/q & a session. Admittedly, thanks to one of the kids, this segment did provide one of the funniest moments of the show, but it still went on far too long. Better examples of audience participation had already occurred during the performance, and I would have preferred if they brought the kids up to do something that had some bearing on the plot —like maybe having the kids hold up props during a scene. Not only would this have helped Sleeping Beauty’s flow, it could have cut down the nearly 2 and a half hour (including a 15 minute intermission) runtime.
The acting is fine. Fisher is a good fit for Carabosse. Schrader’s hapless Silly Billy gets a lot of laughs. There are times when the music overwhelms the vocals, but Guzman and Solomon in particular give strong singing performances. The dancing is definitely a highlight.
The sets looked like something out of a cartoon, which I liked. The costumes suited the characters. Some like Aurora and Carabosse’s outfits were quite referential to their counterparts from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. But my favorite Disney reference was when Nanny Tickle was doing an homage to Mary Poppins, and she actually had an umbrella with a parrot shaped handle. The Disney allusions can be distracting, but they also added something unexpected to the show.
There are jokes aimed for adults, and I can’t say I was a stone statue during the performance. However, most of my enjoyment did not come from the show itself. It came from seeing and hearing the happiness radiating off the kids in the audience. The kids’ laughter, their palpable investment in what was happening onstage and the moments the actors broke character in order to compliment something a child shouted.