REVIEW: "Robin Hood & Maid Marion: A Holiday Panto" — Laguna Playhouse

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

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.

Jo Osmond and the company

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.

Jared Machado, Daniel Kim, Michael James Ryan and Tyler Shilstone

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.

Michael James Ryan and Sohm Kapila

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.