BWW Interview: Producer Kris Lythgoe Brushes Up on His Southern Colloquialisms for ALADDIN AND HIS WINTER WISH

BWW Interview: Producer Kris Lythgoe Brushes Up on His Southern Colloquialisms for ALADDIN AND HIS WINTER WISH

Although the Lythgoe family is best known for producing reality television shows like 'So You Think You Can Dance' and 'American Idol,' live theater is in their blood.

"It's more part of my DNA," says Kris Lythgoe. "I really grew up surrounded by the tradition and frankly know nothing else."

Lythgoe says that tradition included spending his summers in the orchestra pit watching his mother direct, his winters in the editing suite with his TV dad, Nigel Lythgoe, and his Christmas holidays watching panto productions written and directed by both his parents.

"In Britain, the first introduction to theater is through panto for any child," he says. "So, whether or not my parents were in the business, the first introduction to theater and the breaking down of walls is what we call panto for kids."

The British panto tradition dates back 300 years when the townspeople would put on a show as a Christmas present for the kids in their village. These bawdy musical productions would always have a huge comedic twist and were interactive by nature.

But Lythgoe says when he moved to Los Angeles, it was hard to find family-friendly theater productions he could share with his young son. That's when he had the idea to bring British panto to the United States.

"In the beginning, we struggled with the fact that we tried to do British panto in America," he says. "And British panto will never work in America for a number of reasons."

So, he Americanized the genre by removing the bawdy elements, bringing in Broadway names, capitalizing on the fairytales kids already knew, and using pop songs to tell a story. Lythgoe says incorporating the familiar not only engages kids but also allows for audience participation.

"Yes, you have a child glued to their seats waiting for the next cue, if you like, to start screaming," he says. "We boo the bad guys and we cheer for the good guy."

"What we're trying to do is trying to introduce kids to the arts and get them to see that the theater isn't a mausoleum, it's a happening place," he adds.

And the American panto formula must be working because in nine years the productions have become a California holiday tradition. The shows also boast a long list of famous alumni, including Neil Patrick Harris, Ben Vereen, Lucy Lawless, and Ariana Grande. This season Lythgoe Family Panto is expanding across America with four productions running across the country.

Raleigh audiences will have a chance to experience American panto for themselves when ALADDIN AND HIS WINTER WISH opens at The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts later this month. The show stars Jason Gotay as Aladdin, best known to Raleigh audiences for his performance as Jack Kelly in the North Carolina Theatre production of NEWSIES last summer. Alongside Gotay will be 'Dance Moms' alum Nia Sioux as Princess Jasmine and Barry Pearl, best known for his portrayal as Doody in the movie 'Grease,' as the Sultan.

Lythgoe says Raleigh audiences can expect a high energy show featuring great choreography and an eclectic mix of music.

"These shows, they are multigenerational," he says. "So, I'll pick a song that's from the 60s for the grandparents, from the 80's for the parents, and then Bruno Mars comes in with 'Treasure' and 'Billionaire' for the kids."

"Your grandparents, your parents, your kids can all come along, and you'll all get something different from the show," he adds.

And while the magic of ALADDIN is really for the kids, Lythgoe says adults will appreciate the topical and local humor of the show. In fact, he's been working closely with North Carolina Theatre since last spring to make sure he gets the Southern colloquialisms just right, including inserting references to Cookout, Zaxby's, Neomande, the inner and outer beltline, and Carolina basketball into the script.

He's also hoping kids will show up dressed as their favorite characters and arrive early to the theater to participate in the pre-show festivities, which will include Santa, face painting, and arts and crafts activities.

"My big thing about theater in general, and what we're trying to do, is make it more of an event for the family as opposed to just coming to see a stage play," says Lythgoe.

ALADDIN AND HIS WINTER WISH begins a three-year partnership between Lythgoe Family Panto and North Carolina Theatre. Next year, A SNOW WHITE CHRISTMAS will make its North Carolina debut, and in 2020, PETER PAN AND A PIRATE'S CHRISTMAS will fly into Raleigh. Lythgoe says these theatrical experiences are more important than ever as parents battle against YouTube, iPads, and Fortnight for their children's attention.

"With all those things, there's no communal family involvement with that whatsoever," Lythgoe says. "We might meet at the dinner table when we have dinner, but there's no shared experience that a family can have together anymore."

"And that is exactly what these shows do."

ALADDIN AND HIS WINTER WISH runs November 29th - December 2nd at The Duke Energy Center. For more information visit: https://nctheatre.com/shows/aladdin-winter-wish.

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From This Author Lauren Van Hemert

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