BWW Review: SLEEPING BEAUTY AND HER WINTER KNIGHT Brings Out the Child in All at Theatre Under The Stars
In partnership with Lythgoe Family Panto, Theatre Under the Stars has opened their family-fun, holiday-filled interactive production Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight to Houston audiences. With a star-studded cast, popular music, and a storybook vibe, Kris Lythgoe's Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight had both the children and the parents in the audience laughing, shouting at the characters onstage, and erupting in applause. This production tells the tale of the cursed Princess Aurora (Lauren Taylor) on the brink of her eighteenth birthday, and the handsome Prince (Garrett Clayton) on the road to his wedding day with the Princess, as the evil fairy Carabosse (Debbie Gravitte) does everything in her power to sabotage the kingdom.
A Theatre Under the Stars first, this production was structured panto-style. Lythgoe Family Panto has created several of these memorable, creative, and affordable theatre experiences based on well-known stories, decorated with modern songs for children, and filled with fast-paced, clever humor for the parents. A panto production is short for "pantomime", and is essentially a musical comedy geared towards family entertainment. Rather than bringing your children to the theatre, telling them they must sit still and be quiet for two hours, you can bring them to this professional panto show, and encourage them to boo the evil fairy Carabosse (Debbie Gravitte), cheer for the beautiful Aurora (Lauren Taylor), and make all the noise and laughter they might feel compelled to during the popular song hits.
While a panto show is challenging to do successfully in a large proscenium-style theatre, Theatre Under the Stars and Lythgoe Family Panto made the theatre unite in the interaction of the show. With over-exaggerated mannerisms and presentation, this panto did not feel too small for Sarofim Hall. At times even jokingly holding the older audience members accountable for participation, Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight made everyone in attendance remember how to act, react, and enjoy theatre as a child does.
Directed by Linda Goodrich (TUTS 2016 production of MARY POPPINS), a panto show deliberately breaks the fourth wall in movement, words, and humor. The setting of this production was the "Kingdom of Houston", and the all-too-accurate, Houston-specific humor regarding I-45 traffic, our beloved sports, Torchy's Tacos, Mattress Mack, and more had the older audience erupting in laughter time and again.
An integral comedic presence to the show was Ben Giroux (Silly Billy) who delivered never-ending quick wit and clever humor anytime he was onstage. With an appearance and voice reminiscent of the characters you would find on your child's Saturday morning cartoons, Giroux was a crowd-favorite with the children and adults alike. He carried the show with his comedic timing and hilarious physicality, and always kept the audience on their toes and laughing out loud.
Another notable performance was given by Jeff Sumner as Nanny Tickle, Aurora's flamboyantly funny and bubbly nanny. Sumner, like Giroux, kept the show lively at several moments, keeping the adult audience laughing and the children amused as he pranced around the stage in over-the-top makeup and wild costumes (By Albemarle Productions and Florencia Carrizo).
While a few songs felt a bit lackluster, the highest energy, most entertaining portions of the show were the moments in which the various Humphrey School of Musical Theatre and The River students came onstage to play, dance, and sing as only children can. The 24 participating children are divided into alternating groups, that include TUTS veteran performers as well as newcomers to the TUTS stage. TUTS has made a significant effort to provide all students with the opportunities to have professional training, experience, and exposure in the theatre industry; seeing the children experience a fun-loving, energetic professional performance was heartwarming and wonderful to watch.
The cast was full of recognizable faces and talented professionals that each had their own hook in the show. John O'Hurley (King of Houston), best known as J. Peterman on "Seinfeld", was both humorous and a pleasure to watch sing. Garrett Clayton (Prince of
River Oaks), from Disney Channel's Teen Beach Movie, was exactly the type of person in appearance and vocals that you hope will portray a picture-perfect prince. Loveably oblivious and blindly in love, Clayton earned many laughs from the audience, as well as applause mid-song for his unreal vocal abilities. Vonzell Solomon, runner up on "American Idol" portrayed the Good Fairy with grace, sass, and seamless vocals, wowing the audience with Mariah Carey's "Hero".
Ian Wilson's set design was aesthetically evocative of a child's storybook scene, with picturesque colors, shapes, and designs that felt almost pop-up book style. The intricate set pieces became several settings, and there were artfully painted drops that provided background for transitional moments.
The musical arrangements were done by Michael Orland and directed by Jim Vukovich, who gave the pop songs their energy and added several sound effects throughout the show. Lighting Designer, Chris Wilcox, lit the performance with bright hues, further contributing to the storybook look. Wilcox had the fun challenge of livening up the various modern songs, and made use of projection, disco balls, and swirling movement to animate the stage even more. The choreography was notably done by Spencer Liff with the help of several dancers, including Alexa Magro, Christopher Tipps, Louis Williams Jr., Joshua Rivera, Janaya French (Dance Captain), Tyrone Jackson, Lakesha Sowell, and Kourtnie Labay.
Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight was all-around family fun, and had the Houston audience chuckling, singing, and playing like children by the end. A wonderfully funny and entertaining choice for a holiday show, this panto is not one you want to miss.
Photography Credit: Melissa Taylor
Theatre Under the Stars' Sleeping Beauty and Her Winter Knight opened in performance on December 12th, and will run at Sarofim Hall through December 24th. Performances are Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm, Sunday 12/17 at both 2:00pm and 7:30pm, and Sunday 12/24 at 2:00pm. Ticket prices range from $30-$128. Special offers are available including Family 4 Packs for $99. A limited quantity of Golden Tickets are available that allow the ticketholder (children only) a special on-stage experience during the production. To purchase tickets, visit the Theatre Under the Stars website at tuts.com or call the Box Office at 713.558.TUTS (8887). Email email@example.com for information on tickets and subscriptions.