Updated: 3 days ago
Brighten Up Your Christmas with this Feel-Good, Festive, Tongue-In-Cheek Panto!
This holiday season, put on your glass slippers and join the uber talented Lythgoe family in their eighth annual panto at Laguna Playhouse with, “A Cinderella Christmas.” Based on the traditional British panto, where audiences participate in the show, you can expect a hilarious, heartwarming evening of fun, song, dance and holiday merriment as this timeless rags to riches story of a young girl meeting her prince gets an exciting holiday makeover. Set to the age-old fairytale of Cinderella with modern music, the wacky event features songs like “9-5” by Dolly Parton, “When You Believe,” by Whitney Houston and “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey.
Introducing Americans to traditional British pantomime, however, long a Christmas staple across the pond, is a tall order. Rather like a Disney film, it needs a fairy tale, music, song, dance, comedy, goodies, baddies and a generous sprinkling of magic. But producer-helmer Bonnie Lythgoe’s “A Cinderella Christmas” pulls it off without a hitch, creating a lavish production complete with a talented dance troupe showcasing the vocal talents of some of Broadway’s brightest stars.
There's, of course, the requisite actor or two in drag, and a villain...and audiences are encouraged to root for the heroes and hiss loudly at the villains. It's all done in the spirit of the season with a superb cast, some very fine pop singing and fast-paced dancing.
The Lythgoe Family proudly presents the famed Joely Fisher (“Ellen,” “Desperate Housewives,”), daughter of Hollywood legendary crooner Eddie Fisher and entertainment icon Connie Stevens as the Baroness.
The cast also features Veronica Dunne (Disney’s “KC Undercover; Broadway’s “Chicago”) as “Cinderella;” Jennifer Leigh Warren (Broadway’s “Marie Christine”) as the Fairy Godmother; (“Patrick Ortiz (“The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) as The Prince; Ben Giroux (“Big Nate;” “Rick & Morty”) as Buttons; Austyn Myers (Broadway’s “Les Miserables) as Dandini; and Jeff Sumner (Lythgoe’s “The Wonderful Winter of Oz”) and Mark Gagliardi (“Blood and Treasure”) as The Sisters. Becky Lythgoe will also understudy and perform select performances as The Baroness. The show is set to run through December 29th at the historic and celebrated playhouse.
"A Cinderella Christmas" takes the vintage story of the poor servant girl tortured by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters until a fairy godmother grants her wish and transports her to the royal ball. She meets the prince and sweeps him off his feet. “A Christmas Cinderella” differs to the traditional “Cinderella” by adding the character Buttons, a fellow servant with a major crush on Cinders. In addition, the script (by Kristopher Lythgoe) strings together juvenile humor and classic songs made popular by singers like Meagan Trainor, Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston and Roxette.
But interaction is the name of the game in panto, and Mr. Giroux’s Buttons, who acts as narrator, sets the rules at the top, orchestrating audience participation with his special skillset, and even coordinating a second act sing-along. Every time he makes his entrance, he says "Hi 'ya kids!" and everyone responds, "Hi 'ya Buttons!" He is secretly in love with Cinderella, so we feel his pain when she tells him she loves him only like a brother, but he still maintains his loyalty to her. He is most loved for his sympathetic, easy-going nature, as well as his witty ad-libbing.
Since the play is set in California’s Laguna Beach, the two wicked stepsisters are appropriately named Hollywood (Mr. Sumner) and Vine (Mr. Gagliardi), guys in drag, who are a scream even without a script. These two generate the most sidesplitting moments in the show, going wild with shenanigans and literally stealing every scene they're in. Their costumes are also over the top, deliciously plebeian and cartoon-life (such as in one scene where they wear a Pink's hotdog and an In-N-Out burger) and the kids just eat it up...figuratively, of course!
Meanwhile, stepmother Baroness Hardup has a plan to destroy Cinder’s dreams by tearing up her invitation to the Christmas Ball as well as ripping her mother's dress she was prepared to wear. Thank heavens for Ms. Warren’s Fairy Godmother who sweeps in to save the day, dress Cinderella to the nines and send her on her way in a carriage made from a pumpkin. Two mice are converted into handsome coachmen. And you know the rest of the story, of course.
Vernonica Dunne sings beautifully and is so sincere as Cinderella that she effortlessly wins our hearts. Ms. Warren, known for her show-stopping performance as “Alice’s Daughter” in the original Broadway cast of “Big River," as well as the original “Little Shop of Horrors,” has a gorgeous voice and, although soft-spoken, makes Fairy sweet and caring, the ultimate friend to “Cinders.”
Mr. Myers does well with the supporting role of Dandini, assistant to the Prince. Kudos, too, to the nine chorus and junior dancers so brightly choreographed by Becca Sweitzer. Production stage manager is Bridget Rooney, who, most probably has her hands full with this energized cast. But Bonnie Lythgoe directs skillfully with just the right touches of satirical fun, never once forgetting that this is indeed a family show.
Speaking of which, I noticed the many children at the theater delighted in all the sophomoric jokes, sing-alongs, and fourth-wall-breaking conversations with a steady roar of laughter, pointing up these very talented comedians and pop singers in the cast, particularly the noble heartthrob Patrick Ortiz (From Broadway’s “West Side Story” and NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”), and Jennifer Leigh Warren (all four tours of “A Night with Janis Joplin”), who has serious vocal pipes and brought down the house with two Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston renditions.
Praise also to the fabulous musical director Andy Street (“Strawberry Shortcake;” “Pulp Fiction”) and his one-man foley orchestra, as well as the wonderfully talented Haven Hanson (Tustin’s Broadway in the Park “Cinderella”) for hair, makeup and costumes, lighting designer Crystal Shomph (ICT: “The Andrews Brothers”) and sound designer Ian Scott (MFA Yale School of Drama).
WITH: VERONICA DUNNE, JOELY FISHER, MARK GAGLIARDI, BEN GIROUX, AUSTYN MYERS, PATRICK ORTIZ, JEFF SUMNER, JENNIFER LEIGH WARREN, BECKY LITHGOE, ASHLEY CHAVARRIA, MARCELLO SALVATIERRA, ALEX THO, ALISSA WILSEY, ADDISON CHANG, JULIAN GWIN, RAE MARTINEZ, TREVOR MCCUTCHEN, NAVA TATE.
Don't miss this Lythgoe Family Panto, “A Cinderella Christmas,” now through December 29th at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach. Performances will be Thursdays & Fridays at 7PM, Saturdays & Sundays at 11AM and 3PM. For Tickets: www.lagunaplayhouse.com. Kids will delight in the sight gags and fast-paced dances, and parents will love the campy jokes and music. It's a Christmas blast!