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Review: GADZOOKS! A New Holiday Tradition

Stephanie Frank as Cinderella.
Photo by Dan Myers and Lumi Photo

Scrooge, the elves, Santa, and the mistletoe have been done. Christmas shows have been done. Some would argue they've been done to death.

But, there is a type of yuletide entertainment that we are sorely missing on our side of the pond - the British panto.

Panto can easily be described as a fairytale farce that involves shouting, adlibbing, and audience participation galore.

In a remounting of their 1999 production, Mercury Players Theatre presents the Madision original Gadzooks! Cinderella (It Ain't Shakespeare) through Saturday the 19th. Gadzooks takes the original fairytale and throws in a handful of characters in drag, goofy songs, and even a cow.

Per typical panto style, a woman plays the role of The Prince - in this case her name is Kyra McFarland. McFarland's wry, candid humor makes The Prince the sassiest character by far. But it's McFarland's knack for interacting with the audience and playing off the cuff that makes her perfect for the role.

Playing at her side is a downright adorable Stephanie Frank as Cinderella. Though Frank has her snarky moments too, she stays fairly steadfast to the role's typical innocent joy. Harnessing her inner Disney princess, as well as her inner clown, Frank never has a dull moment.

Some of the show's more traditional moments come in when Alex Lindgren (The Mayor) and Christopher Knight (The Tailor) break out their guitars and accompany the other performers. These scenes are exceedingly charming - Knight and Lindgren are a joy to watch. When paired with Frank's unexpected, jazzy vocals, the show's songs break the string of bad puns and groan inducing Dad jokes.

For audiences who aren't used to the Monty Python-esque comedy, the songs make for a welcome change.

Nick Schweitzer's script is absurd and over the top - made even more so by Stephen F. Murray's cast and direction. The ensemble of the "Dairy Shakespeare Players" must respond appropriately (or not) to the audience's cheering or booing so, they have to be on their toes at all times.

Fortunately they seem up to the task - though some of the members of the cast could have used an energy shot on opening night. The energy was low for a lot of the cast members, which affected their playing around with the audience.

But, overall, the show is a new tradition to be a part of during the holiday season.

Not everything has to be Tiny Tim and "Humbug". Many thanks to Mercury Players Theatre for reminding us of that.

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From This Author - Amanda Finn