BWW Reviews: Stages' PANTO MOTHER GOOSE - A Big Golden Goose Egg of a Theatrical Treat
Stages Repertory Theatre's PANTO MOTHER GOOSE is their fifth original "panto" production, and this new tradition has become quite the holiday favorite in Houston. For those who may not know, "panto" is a British tradition of winter musical comedy theater that puts a fresh, raucous spin on fairy tales by injecting the familiar stories with references to contemporary culture and encourages audience interaction (i.e. cheering for the heroes and booing the villains every time they enter the performance space). The product is a fun, lively performance that is fun for the whole family.
Kenn McLaughlin and David Nehls' PANTO MOTHER GOOSE takes audiences on a journey to Goose Island, where Mother Goose is ready to marry Old King Cole and retire from the nursery rhyme and poetry business. She abdicates her title, igniting a war for her crown that could possibly bring about the end of all rhyming in Goose Island and even our own world. Squaring off against Mary (of the quite contrary variety), Jack (with help from his doting best friend Jill) sets his sights on saving Goose Island from a dismal, rhymeless future. Mix in a full cast of zany Mother Goose characters, and the audience will be consistently delighted and amused through hilarious song, dance, and gleeful comedy.
Direction by Ryan Schabach is fast paced and highly entertaining. Every characterization is played as zany as is possible, ensuring that there are multiple laughs per minute. With Ryan Schabach at the reins, the show never lags or drags. In fact, there are so many truly funny, laugh out loud moments whizzing past that repeat viewings are the only way to ensure you've actually seen and heard everything.
As our pair of heroes, Mitchell Greco's Jack and Teresa Zimmermann's Jill are an affable and caring duo. The audience can't help but be spellbound by their zeal for life, rhymes, and each other. Mitchell Greco and Teresa Zimmermann easily bring the audience to their side, making rooting for them to succeed come naturally. Likewise, both Mitchell Greco and Teresa Zimmermann have fantastic senses of comedic timing, adeptly earning laugh after laugh from the audience.
The villains, Mary (the contrary one) played by Josh Estrada and Baron Von Nastypants played by Andrew Ingalls are slimy, despicable, and adroitly fun. With pristine machinations, Andrew Ingalls is nothing short of dastardly and diabolical, making even the youngest of children excitedly boo him at every turn. Josh Estrada is sillier, showing his heart printed boxers as often as possible, earning guffaws of laughter in addition to sneers. Both villains are vibrant and easy to despise, which makes the performance all the more fun.
Mark Ivy's Tommy Tucker is whimsical in his joviality. He is the town crier that loves to sing for more than just his supper. Never missing a chance to break into song and dance, Mark Ivy's Tommy Tucker is charismatic and enthralling, reeling the audience in from the very beginning of the show. Moreover, as a sidekick to the heroes, the audience has nothing but love for him as he keeps Jack and Jill on the path to success.
Wee Willie, played by Kyle Curry, is fantastically witty. Kyle Curry delivers pun rich one-liners that land perfectly time and time again. The ones that fall short are written to fall short, which makes the character all the more endearing as he celebrates his flawed punch lines. Despite being the sidekick for the villains, the audience finds Kyle Curry's portrayal of Wee Willie just as amiable as they do laughable.
Genevieve Allenbury as Mother Goose and Jimmy Phillips as Old King Cole play a cute, doddering couple. Their mirth is infectious, making children and adults smile ear to ear whenever they appear on stage.
As Buttons and Maria, Ryan Schabach and Sarah Myers, respectively, are a show stealing couple. Ryan Schabach's Buttons is a hard worker that has a big to-do list of items to accomplish before Mother Goose and Old King Cole can get married; however "Fall in Love" presents him with his biggest challenge. As silent Maria, Sarah Myers, makes her heartache tangible for the audience as she longs for Buttons to fall in love with her. This fantastically played subplot warms the heart and endears the audience to their characters and the rest of the show.
Hunter Frederick, Cameron Davis, and Danny Dyer are delightfully duplicitous as Hickory, Dickory, and Dock. Every great villain needs a slew of henchmen, and these three actors do skillful, fantastic jobs with those roles. Constantly chewing on golf tees and exclaiming "eat nails," Danny Dyer's Dock is possibly the most memorable of the three.
Beth Lazarou and Jessica Janes play many roles, and do incredible jobs with each one. Their horse is hilarious, especially when it gets the chance to two-step. Their alligators were priceless and thrilling additions to the finale as well. Even though they are constantly changing costumes, each character they portray is sublime fantastical funny fun.
As Jill's father and mother, Cameron Bautsch and Carolyn Johnson deliver strong performances. Unintentionally they hold Jill back from her dreams and have to learn to allow their daughter to soar, providing a poignant lesson in believing in your family members.
Steven Jones musical direction is extraordinary. The original and memorable songs, written by David Nehls, all sound great and there is not a sour note in the bunch. Stand out moments include Mitchell Greco's sweet and affecting vocals on "Lonely Little People" and Andrew Ingalls swarthy, jazzy, and utterly villainous rendition of "Blame it on my Mama and my Dad."
As Choreographer, Rob Flebbe's work is amusing and maintains a perfect level of kitsch for the show. The audience almost dies anticipating Andrew Ingalls to use the red silk for some aerial acrobatics in "Take Hold," but is instead treated to a humorous and unexpected surprise at the end of the number. Then in the second act dance competition, the audience is treated to a spectacular retrospective of dance stylings, which earn Beth Lazarou and Cameron Davis hearty guffaws, thunderous applause, and cheers.
Scenic and Properties Design by Jodi Bobrovsky is immaculate and stunning. The opening flat with the cover of the Mother Goose rhymes book on it is inspired and causes audience members to reminisce about that very book with the children they bring to see the show. The rest of the set is decorated like a watercolored page from a coloring book, which is perfectly eye catching and sets the tone for the production. Furthermore, it extends all the way through the seating area, enveloping the audience in the show and making us feel like we are truly a part of it all.
Tiffani Fuller needs a Tony award for costuming this show. The costumes are nothing short of spectacular and divinely inspired. The two-dimensional look created by having the backs of the pieces be printed pages of text while the fronts are colorful, fancy representations of fairy tale couture is nothing short of exhilarating and breathtaking. The costumes are worth the price of admission alone. Mix in the highly talented cast and creative team and you've simply got a winning show that easily and undoubtedly looks and plays well above the face value printed on the ticket. Moreover, this idea is echoed in Jodi Bobrovsky's props and set pieces, which fully completes the effect and makes it wholly affective.
Chris Bakos Sound Design is perfect for the space. It balances the band and microphones flawlessly, ensuring that the audience can easily hear everything they are supposed to.
Lighting Design by Devlin Browning utilizes colors well and never interferes with the action on the stage. While a seemingly simplistic design over all, his most impressive lighting effects are seen when Jill is locked in the tower.
Dripping in talent and showcasing the hard work of a large number of local artists, PANTO MOTHER GOOSE at Stages Repertory Theatre is a smash hit of a wondrous musical comedy show. From witty word play to hilarious topical references and stellar costuming and set design, PANTO MOTHER GOOSE has every element in place to entertain audiences that range in age from 3 to 103. After taking in this performance it is easy to see why Stages Repertory Theater's annual "panto" production is becoming the must see, talk of the town new holiday tradition.
PANTO MOTHER GOOSE runs at Stages Repertory Theatre's Yeager Theater through January 6, 2013. For tickets and more information please visit http://stagestheatre.com/ or call (713) 527 – 0123. Also, be sure to check into their adults only New Year's Eve party and production of NAUGHTY PANTO MOTHER GOOSE for an unforgettable start to your 2013!
All photos by Bruce Bennett, courtesy of Stages Repertory Theatre.
Genevieve Allenbury joins us from "across the pond" to play Mother Goose.
Ryan Schabach returns to play "Buttons" and to direct PANTO MOTHER GOOSE.
Cast of PANTO MOTHER GOOSE sing "New Today."