BWW Reviews: Stages Repertory Theatre's PANTO GOLDILOCKS is Double O'Fun
For those who don't know, Panto (or Pantomime) is a tried and true form of family friendly musical theatre developed in the United Kingdom that is mostly performed during the Christmas and New Year season. Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston is now producing their sixth panto production, making this charming and interactive form of daffy musical theatre into one of Houston's must see holiday traditions. This year, the madcap confection is a retelling of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" with a James Bond twist.
Genevieve Allenbury, who wrote and performed in PANTO RED RIDING HOOD, PANTO CINDERELLA, and PANTO SLEEPING BEAUTY at Stages, writes the book for this year's show. Her narrative is a clever send up of the British espionage films and includes a heartwarming message about being beautiful both inside and out. Even with all the jollity, the light-hearted book drags a little in the middle of the first act, as the action of the show bounces from London to the USSR, back to London, and then to Texas. Conversely, the second act is much tighter and feels more focused, bringing the story home with a lot of heart and pizzazz.
Musically, the show is a pleasant serving of nostalgia porridge. Miriam Daly re-orchestrates classic James Bond themes and other timeless songs from the swinging sixties to fit the show. The cutely repurposed lyrics supplied by Genevieve Allenbury easily bring smiles to the face of the audience and typically leave us rolling in the aisles as well.
Direction by Justin Doran engages the audience and keeps the story bopping along. The audience interaction in this year's offering is somewhat scaled back in comparison to last year's, which helps the pacing of the show. He also excels in coaching the cast to embrace the cartoonish and zany aspects of all of their characters, keeping the audience tittering, giggling, clapping, and laughing from the beginning to the end.
The 16 member cast all works well together and creates a menagerie of screwball characters that delight during the performance. Leading the cast is Holland Vavra's sultry Goldiana Locksinova, a Russian thief with a heart as gold as her flowing trusses of blonde hair, Genevieve Allenbury's witty, omniscient, and thoroughly Cockney Mrs. "T," and Dayne Lathrop's suave yet clumsy spy Shame'es Blond. Other standout performances include James Cichocki's ruthless Boris Blowfish, Mark Adams' gender bending and laughable Umm?, John Ryan Del Bosque's donkey with big dreams named Don Key Oatcake, Tyce Green's dry Simon Growl, Sarah Myers' spirited Demi Luvahunipo, and Teresa Zimmermann's diva-like Britney Squeals.
Upon entering the Yeager Theater, Kevin Holden's expansive and immersive Scenic Design impresses audiences. The cartoony desert landscape is melded with a bunker-like central performance space that mesmerizes and intrigues as people file into their seats. Once the performance is underway, the multifaceted nature of the design allows for quick and seamless transitions. The influence of James Bond films is evident, but Kevin Holden definitely warps the elements to fit a unique aesthetic that is wholly original and quite astonishing.
Katherine Snider's Costume Design is vibrant and colorful, featuring many pieces that are playful and imaginative. The costuming for the bears is fun and fresh, but my favorite piece has to be the inventive costuming for Ian Flemingo.
The weakest aspect of the production at opening night was Chris Bakos' Sound Design that favored the live musicians over the vocals in the production. With that said, these mistakes seemed to right themselves as the show approached intermission.