Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
This year marks the fifteenth time People's Light has created their own version of the British holiday pantomime and they are masters of the genre. Like Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatrics or Princeton's Triangle Club productions, a panto mixes original music with a prescribed set of shenanigans (a bad guy to "boo," audience participation, a cross-dressing Dame, some jokes for the locals, and a messy sequence) to provide a fun experience where the audience can feel personally involved in the action on stage.
Cinderella begins with the untimely death of Ella's mom. Before her funeral ends, beloved mother Hazel is already being replaced with evil stepmother Baroness Lucretia Loosestrife and her feckless daughters Poisianna and Invasia. Ella's woodland friends act a lot like a vaudeville troupe, and her step family is roaring '20s fabulous (Rosemarie McKelvey's lavish costumes are all terrific and her Gatsby style wardrobe for the Baroness is spectacular), but the audience knows things are going to get really whacky when Hazel's ghost bursts out of the casket in dazzling drag. The addition of a subplot in which Prince Aidan and his valet Barnaby compete for Ella's attention brings a welcome change to the original story's dynamic.
Caroline Strang sparkles as Ella, and Kim Carson smolders as the deliciously sinister Baroness. Mark Lazar is uproarious as formidable mother Hazel in all her various post-mortem forms. There is a lovely chemistry between Luke Bradt and Tyler Fauntleroy that made the scenes with Barnaby and Prince Aidan some of my favorites. The classic and uncomplicated set designs by James F. Pyne, Jr. are top notch.
There is a lot to love about Cinderella, but this sort of frivolous merriment is not going to make everyone happy. A jaded pre-teen could find a lot of the humor too goofy and a serious theatergoer with limited resources may conclude their time and money is better spent elsewhere. But for those of us who enjoy getting a little silly, this Cinderella is as delightfully indulgent a treat as could be wished for this winter.
Cinderella: A Musical Panto, through January 6, 2018, at the People's Light Leonard C. Haas Stage, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern PA. For tickets call 610-644-3500 or visit peopleslight.org.