“A panto is a traditional fairy tale complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters and lots of audience participation. The British love a good panto. In fact the nation has been mad on it ever since the actor manager John Rich introduced it in 1717.” – theatre-britain.com/About%20Panto.html
I don’t know how many panto productions we’ve seen. As the grandkids moved into middle school and high school, we’ve not had much of a chance to treat them to theater as often as we would like . . . and believe me . . . we love to take them to stage productions and especially pantos.
Here in the south Puget Sound Region, the place for panto has been CenterStage in Federal Way. Alan Bryce, who was the driving force of CenterStage for years, has retired. From the U.K. he introduced local audiences to broad British humor. Alan generally played one of the main stereotype characters. Although the kiddies were played to, much of the humor was directed at the adults. Can you say double entendre?
Currently CenterStage only lets down their hair a little bit with Rapunzel. The kids enjoy the simple jokes, music, and dancing. While the adults enjoy this also, they howl as the story unfolds. The bad fairy (Gothel) is being banished for causing a long list of crimes and misdemeanors, ending with the signing of Richard Sherman as a Forty-Niner. The bad fairy steals much of her power back with a little miss-direction, “Look, there’s Russell Wilson.” As heads turn to look she absconds. The bad fairy is played by Deanna Martinez. She is a graduate of the University of Washington. She loves working with children and partners with the Broadway Center for the Arts and Tacoma Musical Playhouse.
Much of the plot is carried by three characters: Sammy Smalls, his mother Dame Fanny Smalls, and the bumbling King Bertie. Sammy leads the audience and teaches them when to participate. When he says, “All right?” the audience says “Okay!” and when he says “Okay?” the audience says “All right!” One of the panto traditions, as demonstrated by Sammy, is to boo and hiss the villain (Gothel) and cheer the hero (Prince Caspian). As we were vigorously hissing Gothel, she turned to us and scornfully compared our hissing to the sound of frying bacon . . . which she kind of liked. Sammy tells the story.
Sammy is played by Cameron Waters. He received his BFA in acting from Pacific Lutheran University. He has performed at Olympia Little Theatre and Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Dame Fanny Smalls, Sammy’s mother, is played by Brad Cerenza. A man playing a woman is standard fare in English Musical Hall tradition. This is Brad’s first foray at CenterStage. As Fanny Smalls invades the audience in search of husband material. She finds Fred. And from then on makes eyes and mentions Fred for the rest of the production. Brad carries the load beautifully. He has an excellent voice as well. King Bertie is played by John Kelleher. John is a musical specialist in the Lake Washington School District and has numerous local performances including Tacoma Musical Playhouse.
Bad fairy Gothel revenges herself on the fairies and the kingdom by stealing the baby (Rapunzel) of King Bertie and his queen. Rapunzel has been kept in an isolation tower for over twenty years in the deep dark forest. Rapunzel is played by Jessie Selleck and has long green hair (don’t ask). Jessie attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City and has toured with Missoula Children’s Theatre. Although she has acted in Seattle area, this is her debut at CenterStage. She has a lovely voice . . . a very lovely voice.
Rapunzel is saved by the handsome Prince Caspian of Tumwater, played by Joshua Jerard. Traditionally this character would have been played by a female actress. The prince pops when he preens, has a great smile, and climbs Rapunzel’s tower without the need of her long hair. Prince Caspian used to work for REI. Joshua is a Texan who spends his time between Los Angeles and Seattle. He is a nice addition to the CenterStage family.
Taking the local acting world by storm is Leila Neidlinger. She plays the Fairy Queen and performs in the youth ensemble. She’s a fourth grader at Tacoma’s Fawcett Elementary. She has already performed at Auburn Avenue and Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Expect to see her in many other local performances; she has more energy than any child should have.
The dancing ensemble of Nicolas “Nicolai” Roycroft, Alexandria Stevens, Barrett Penrod, and Mara E. Palma were excellent. Besides dancing and singing, Nicolas was also the lighting designer and technical supervisor. Barret was outstanding as he hung various gifts on the clothes line for a much different Twelve Days of Christmas than you would be used to . . . “and a bra that was made to hold three!” I think Alexandria might have been the best dancer of the four . . . actually, I’m sure of it. This was her first time at CenterStage. She is a graduate of Cornish College of the Arts. Mara is the most intriguing person in the cast. Besides moving well, she is a dynamo. She is a first generation Filapina-American and is a performer, playwright, and producer. Currently with Pork Filled Productions, one of the longest running Asian-American theatres in the Pacific Northwest, she has a bright future ahead of her.
This is a long production, which is my only complaint. The beauty shop scene needs more cream in the cream pies and needs manic timing or the audience loses concentration. If you have kids, grandkids, and neighbor kids you should bring them, but it’s not a requirement. Come by yourself if you need a lift emotionally. Puns, bad jokes, and laughter are a great cure for almost anything!
Rapunzel runs through the 30th of December at CenterStage on Dumas Bay (just above Northeast Tacoma) in Federal Way. – centerstagetheatre.com/
Photo credit: Michelle Smith-Lewis.