Kids were jumping in their seats, and their older companions were equally delighted with all the glorious disorder in Cinderella: A Musical Panto, running through Jan. 6 at People’s Light in Malvern. Written by Kathryn Petersen, the show is a dazzling theatrical experience, the 15th consecutive holiday panto to run at People’s Light.
As in all traditional English pantos, director David Bradley transforms a well-known fairy tale with All Fools’ Day irreverence. Giving Cinderella the full People’s Light treatment, Bradley mixes in slapstick, story twists, music and dance, bawdy jokes, cross-dressing, constant audience participation, and jesting topical references.
In a 1920s speakeasy in the town of Malvernistan, pianist Daniel Matarazzo and drummer Kanako Omae Neale have honky-tonk fun with the clever lyrics of Michael Ogborn. The glitzy costume design of Rosemarie McKelvey enhances the show’s foolery, but the split-second transformation of Ella’s dress into Cinderella’s gorgeous ballroom gown stands out as breathtaking legerdemain.
Fourth wall? What fourth wall? Characters stream through the audience, tossing out bon mots and bonbons (yes, there is candy for everyone). You are encouraged to hiss and boo meanie stepmother Lucretia. Some of us are brought onto the stage. And to celebrate the rise of the woman in our off-year political elections, we select one from the audience to be the new mayor of Malvernistan.
Bradley’s cast has a great time. Caroline Strang is a wide-eyed, effervescent Ella/Cinderella. Barrymore winner Kim Carson plays her nemesis Lucretia. (Carson, entertainingly enough, played Ella in the 2013 Cinderella at People’s Light.) Lucretia’s two daughters, Poisianna (Nicole Stacie) and Invasia (Tori Lewis), are burlesque in their naughtiness, and Oliver (People’s Light veteran Tom Teti), Ella’s milquetoast father, struggles to find his pluck.
But where would any self-respecting panto be without a Dame? Flamboyant, cross-dressing Mark Lazar lights up the stage as Hazel, Ella’s dead mother, then is reborn as Ella’s fairy godmother tree. Ella also takes comfort in four charming friends: Tom Cat (Christopher Patrick Mullen), Big Gus (Mary Elizabeth Scallen), Sudsy Squirrel (Susan McKey), and Flea (Christian Giancaterino), all comically animal in their bearing. Prince Aidan (Tyler Fauntleroy) and his valet, Barnaby (Luke Bradt), act out full-blown vaudeville routines as they vie for Ella’s hand.
There is no large message here, but you cannot dismiss Cinderella: A Musical Panto as mere madcap. With spectacular theatricality, the holiday show brings everyone together, leaving children gape-mouthed in wonder even as this topsy-turvy fairy tale prompts adults to recall a time when everything was new and magical.