An Almost British Christmas
Theatre Nova's take on panto
From the December, 2016 issue
Though panto is short for pantomime, it has nothing to do with silent mimes wearing white makeup, berets, and striped shirts. The traditional British family entertainment is more like vaudeville meets melodrama meets commedia dellarte: a zany, wacky mash-up of sketch comedy, music, and stock characterslike the cross-dressing Panto Dameplus bits of audience participation. Its not sophisticated, highbrow theater, but rowdy, raucous entertainment filled with silly slapstick, frequent pratfalls, and madcap chase scenes. It is full of sly references to current events, jokes, and double entendres that fly right over the heads of the younger set but land unerringly on grownup funny bones.
Theatre Nova premiered a local Americanized version of a panto last holiday season with An Almost British Christmas. Panto 2015, which was very loosely related to the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, featured Rudolph herself imaginatively costumed in antlers and pom-pom tail, a cross-dressed Mrs. Santa Claus, an elf, and even the Abominable Snowman. Throughout the play the actors raced around breathlessly, chased each other through the aisles and the audience, and frequently slammed hilariously into the immovable metal pole in the center of the Yellow Barns stage.
This years panto promises similar high jinks, with variations on yet another familiar and beloved Christmas tale, The Nutcracker, this time the original German version, Nussknacker und Mauseknig. The way we do the panto, says Theatre Nova founder and artistic director Carla Milarch, I come up with a first draft of the script, and then the cast takes it and improvises and inserts their own flavor. Sonja Marquis (most recently in Encore Musical Theatres Always Patsy Cline), Dan Morrison (who appeared in The Full Monty at EMT), and Sarah Stevens Briggs (who was also in The Full Monty and will be in Wild Swans upcoming A Christmas Carol) will between them portray Clara, the Mouse King, and Tante Drosselmeyer, this years Panto Dame, plus other characters new to the tale. Weve taken loads of liberties, as
usual, says Milarch. R. MacKenzie Lewis, who composed the music for last years panto, has this year mixed in a little Tchaikovsky and added original songs, including Tick Tock and Kick Butt.
British panto always has a community aspect, with every show incorporating guest cameo appearances by prominent and less familiar members of the local citizenry. Theatre Novas pantos continue that tradition, with magicians, musicians, and local childrens choirs doing short bits and interacting with the actors. One night, even mayor Chris Taylor and his wife, actress Eva Rosenwald, dropped in and read aloud their favorite Christmas book.
Sweetest of all, the Panto Dame tosses candy to girls and boys--of every age--in each show. Theatre Nova presents Sugar Plum Panto from November 26 through December 23.
[Originally published in December, 2016.]
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