BWW Interview: BT McNicholl Talks PETER PAN and TINKER BELL A PIRATE'S CHRISTMAS
BT McNicholl is the producing artistic director of La Mirada Theatre of the Performing Arts and continues to direct in the U.S. and overseas. He is currently in rehearsal for the Lythgoe Panto Peter Pan and Tinker Bell A Pirate's Christmas to open this week at the Laguna Playhouse. In our conversation he talks in detail about the Panto.
What do you like about the Panto productions?
BTM: They're eminently accessible -- contemporary pop songs fused with plucky twists on well-known tales. Plus, these productions feature exceptional professional talents, so -- for children experiencing theatre for the first time -- it's an introduction at a very high level. Best of all, it's a family tradition that can be repeated annually, but without ever becoming stale -- the content keeps changing (one year it's PETER PAN, the next year it's SNOW WHITE, then ALADDIN, etc) -- but the theatrical experience remains vibrant and participatory.
How is Peter Pan and Tinker Bell A Pirate's Christmas shaping up? Talk about your challenges in directing this piece in that style.
BTM: The show is coming along beautifully, actually. The trick is keeping the pacing tight while allowing room for the heart-tugging moments, the passages that evoke wonder (flying) and audience interaction. Also, one has to keep the relationships honest and authentic, to balance the slapstick sequences.
Adults enjoy these shows as well as kids. Explain in detail.
BTM: Like the greatest of the animated feature films, pantos have references and humor that only adults will savor -- so they're not left out of the fun. But in addition to that, there's a good deal of craft, skill, and talent onstage that will be appreciated by anyone who enjoys professional theatre.
How is the American panto different from those originally produced in England?
BTM: Long before I ever imagined I'd be directing a panto, I actually saw two of them in Dublin, where the tradition is as strong as it is in England. I went with my nephews, then 5 and 6, and their parents, so I experienced panto as the perfect target audience member -- as part of a family outing. Naturally, I was studying the show as I was watching it, as theatre people can't help but do. With the exception of the "Dame" (a man playing a female character -- typically an older woman, like Jack in the Beanstalk's mother), the American version has the elements that make English panto so successful. These elements have been retained in America, including: fractured fairy tales, pop music, slapstick, lavish production values, accomplished actors and lots of audience engagement throughout.
Talk about your ingenious cast.
BTM: We're lucky that we have a cast of seasoned veterans like John O'Hurley -- who relishes his villainous role while embracing the humor -- and his side-kick Ben Giroux, whose comic inventiveness is boundless, along with sensational dance talent like Clarice Ordaz from "So You Think You Can Dance", young, exciting TV stars such as Dakota Lotus, Ashley Argota and impressive triple-threat Broadway pros like Bryce Charles and Lincoln Clauss. It's a diverse mix of top-tier personalities that add up to a terrific production.
Tell us about the music and songs chosen for Peter Pan.
BTM: From hip-hop to the Carpenters to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the score has something for everyone. All of it is treated with a contemporary sensibility. And while the songs are appropriate to the story and move it along, you get the added bonus of "Hey, I know this one!" -- which, in this jukebox-musical-driven world, is a fantastic plus.
Is there one funny story you will share with us about any mishaps onstage during rehearsals or any comical anecdote about the panto and Peter Pan?
BTM: Well, when Peter Pan finally shows up to save everyone and thwarts Capt. Hook, we discovered that changing Hook's like line from "Oh, shiver me timbers!" to a disappointed and frustrated "Oh, ssssh... iver me timbers" got a great laugh.
Also, the best part of rehearsals is the day when the Pirates run through their slapstick "deck mop" routine for the first time in front of the kids in the cast. They laugh like they're watching Saturday morning cartoons. If they like it, we know we've done it right.
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