Updated: Mar 25
This Holiday Panto Hits a Big Bull's Eye!
Seems that when we see the word “Panto,” there is a certain automatic theatrical liberality, especially at Christmas time, that defies all regular rules of the theatre.
Yes, with last Christmas spent in lockdown and holiday shows pulled off the stages, I’ve been sent to festive cheer overload this year on tinsel, lights and holly-decked halls, culminating in a Panto where a hapless hero falls in love and saves the world, all in one long, dizzyingly merry month of theatrical exhibitions.
And right now, you won’t find a dafter and campier Panto across the land, or indeed a more enjoyable one, than that being served up by Laguna Playhouse with “Robin Hood & Maid Marion: A Holiday Panto,” which opened December 3rd and runs through December 29th. With a new modern makeover twist, it’s the 1170’s and Robin Hood and his merry men are robbing from the rich and giving back to the poor in a show packed with action, adventure and giggles galore.
This fresh tale breezes in with a delightful fun and fizz, creating the sparkiest Panto in years, with a spirit that feels smarter, sassier and more perfectly penned than ever! And all set to a soundtrack of familiar disco dance tunes from the 70’s, like “Disco Inferno,” Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls,” “I’m So Excited,” “Le Freak,” and McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”
Set in playhouses, community theaters, outdoor stages and even pubs, Panto dates back to classical theatre and the early masques, the courtly entertainment of the Elizabethan era. It’s just simply jolly good fun, and if you’re an actor, a chance to let yourself go with some quick local humor, some off-the-chain randomness, maybe some pop culture wisecracks and a lot of goofball antics for a change. It’s like Fractured Fairy Tales live onstage. One zinger or double entendre of the “nudge, wink” variety follows the next in such rapid succession that your face may well ache from laughing when it’s all over.
Playwright Kristopher Lythgoe wrote the script (his sixth Panto for Laguna Playhouse), while his mother, director/dancer/choreographer Bonnie Lythgoe directed. Both have extensive careers in TV, film and theatre: Kristopher (FOX: “So You Think You Can Dance;” Theatre: “Footloose”), and Bonnie (Film: “To Sir With Love;” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”). In 2011, they created Lythgoe Family Productions, and together have brought “Panto” to Southern California in a big way. This swash-buckling, sheriff-busting adventure will benefit “GiveKidsPanto,” a nonprofit agency that gives children a catalyst to introduce them to the arts and an opportunity to see live theatre.
But it’s impossible to sit passively stone-faced while watching. Because part of the fun is to boo the baddies, wildly cheer the goodies, and say the random things the narrator tells you to say. Partly, because you are trained to say whatever, partly because you know the villain will razz you the rest of the night otherwise, and partly because said baddie is probably one of the most delightful characters in the show, who keeps the action humming and elicits much of the smiles throughout.
Most of the characters in this production are already familiar; we have our hero, Robin Hood (Michael James Ryan; “Blood Rock”), gallant, plucky and freebooting with a lot of swish and swank, and flashing that winning smile every few minutes like a toothpaste commercial, he seems to enjoy every moment. Then there's the lovely Maid Marion (Sohm Kapila; “The Morning Show”), who, instead of a simpering Princess, we get Ms. Kapila’s show-stealing dose of girl power, wielding her words and sword as well as any of the outlaws to give the Sheriff his deserved comeuppance.
Sidekick Will Scarlet (Jared Machado; “The Merchant of Venice”), a principal character in all the Robin Hood movies and books, is the connection to the audience, a seer, and does a quiver full of vaudeville asides. Many of his jokes revolve around future events or current discoveries. A preponderance of the onstage limelight goes to Will, and firmly has the audience eating out of his hand.
In supporting roles, Daniel Kim (“Hollywood Stargirl”) plays a dashingly good-looking Friar Tuck, far from the patch-bald, roly-poly, glutinous cleric the movies have stigmatized, and Tyler Shilstone (Film: “Whiskey Dixie”) is the burly, always protective, stick-fighting Little John. The magical Sherwood Forest fairy sprite, played by Jo Osmond (Film: Disney’s “Dumbo”) is spirited and ebullient as the Sherwood Sprite and charmingly narrates the story along. And actually sings quite a few of the numbers…rather good I might add.
And, of course, no Robin Hood Panto would be complete without the titillating Sheriff of Nottingham (Andrew Lynford; TV: “Arty Facts,” Theatre: “Little Shop of Horrors”). Here, he’s superb, swaggering around in flamboyant outfits as the dastardly villain of the land, inflated with Donald Trump-style hubris as he eyes the delicious Maid Marion for connubial purposes. Garnering torrents of boos and hisses with his every entrance, Mr. Lynford’s exuberance and sense of fun make him perfect for the role.
True to fashion, The Sheriff of Nottingham (he insists we pronounce it shur•reeef’) is out taxing the stuffing out of the peasants, while rumor swirls about a dashing crusader (cheer the hero) who steals from the rich and gives to the poor.
In the meantime, Robin Hood has discovered that the Maid Marion is indeed his childhood sweetheart, and about to be betrothed to the nasty sheriff. Still in love, good Robin dons a hooded disguise and goes undercover in an attempt to squelch the lawman’s misdeeds.
When Robin is kidnapped, he inadvertently convinces the Sheriff to let him compete in an archery contest, winner take all, and Robin Hood’s Merry Men come up with a plan to infiltrate the castle, spoil the wedding and rescue him—that is if they can get past the Sheriff’s henchmen, risibly played by James Velasco (“Newsies”), Jacob Byrd (“The Ballad of Lady M”) and Bryce Moyer (Nickelodeum: “Drama Club”). Meanwhile, the audience is treated to the rug-cutting BeeGees classic, “More Than a Woman.” Soon after, the infectious upbeat pop groove, “I’m So Excited,” thrills us by the female empowerment group, The Pointer Sisters.
When Robin wins the contest, the cunning Sheriff threatens to cancel Christmas. In retaliation, the Merry Men, led by Will, woos the audience’s participation for Robin’s support, begging us to boo the Sheriff in protest. The Sheriff sprinkles the audience further with his own brand of cynical wit, and this whole scenario goes down with multiple guffaws and rib cracking belly laughs. After much abuse, yet not getting anywhere, he finally calls the audience probable “day-trippers from Irvine.”
Eventually, everyone finds their happy ending (except maybe the Sheriff). Robin reunites with his beloved Marion, and they marry in upscale, eye-popping forest fashion, and we get a Saturday Night Fever flashback with Walter Murphy's "A Fifth of Beethoven," complete with mirror ball.
Additional supporting cast includes Donte Essien as Soldier 2, Jordyn Waldo as the Handmaiden, Annika Alejo as Villager 1 and Arielle Dettmer as Villager 2.
ROBIN HOOD & MAID MARION: A HOLIDAY PANTO—Writer & Creator KRISTOPHER LYTHGOE, Director/Producer BONNIE LYTHGOE, Producer JASON HAIGH ELLERY, Associate Producer ALEXANDER DAY, Production Stage Manager SAVANHA MOORE, Choreographer MASON TRUEBLOOD, Musical Direction JAMJOR MUSIC, Scenic Designer IAN WILSON, Lighting Designer NITA MENDOZA, Costume Supervisor TIFFANY MAXWELL, Sound Designer IAN SCOTT.
Starring: MICHAEL JAMES RYAN • SOHM KAPILA • ANDREW LYNFORD • JARED MACHADO • TYLER SHILSTONE • DANIEL KIM • JO OSMOND • JAMES VELASCO • DONTE ESSIEN • BRYCE MOYER • JORDYN WALDO • ANNIKA ALEJO • ARIELLE DETTMER.
Performing December 3rd through December 29th, Wednesdays through Fridays at 7PM; Saturdays and Sundays at 12Noon & 4PM, Laguna Playhouse, Celebrating 100th Year Anniversary, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Tickets range from $36-$71 and can be purchased online at www.lagunaplayhouse.com or by calling 949-497-2787, ext 229. Golden Tickets are an add-on to any child's ticket for an additional $50 each (limit of 5 Golden Tickets per performance). A Golden Ticket provides children ages 4 - 12 only with a special onstage sing-along experience during the performance and a gift bag with special surprises.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report