By Margie Royal
‘Aladdin: A Musical Panto” opened last night at People’s Light & Theatre Company to a packed, multi-generational audience. There were grandparents with their grandchildren, teens, families and young couples in the audience. From the enthusiasm with which the audience immediately greeted the Dame (Mark Lazar), and booed the villian (this year a terrific Christopher Patrick Mullen as Fu), it was clear that attending a holiday panto at People’s Light has become a favorite Philly-area tradition.
In case there are some who might be wonder what a panto is: it’s an English holiday entertainment import that People’s Light & Theatre Co. has successfully Americanized. Pantos staged during the Christmas season in England take a classic story and retell it with topical references, lots of physical humor, music and song — and a good dose of silliness. The panto form always features a Dame (a man playing a woman), a villian which the audience is encouraged to boo, an interlude where candy is tossed out to the audience, and, best of all, always a happy ending.
This year director Pete Pryor and Samantha Reading have turned the tale of Aladdin into fast-moving, video-game inspired panto romp that borrows plot elements from “Romeo and Juliet”, “West Side Story” and “Hamlet”. The two collaborated on the script and have created a high energy confection that sent the opening night audience out with smiles on their faces at the end of the performance. Pryor also directs and Reading assists and they keep the pace of the action swift and fluid throughout the two acts.
Mark Lazar, and Tom Teti, audience favorites, have been in every People’s Light panto. They turn in their usual masterful performances. In “Aladdin”, Tom Teti is a Sherlock Holmes geni sporting sequined pink sweat pants and a top coat and hat. Lazar and Teti share the stage with Panto leads from past years (Kim Carson as the Sultan and Susan McKey as the Nurse). Many new faces join these panto veterans this year, bringing a youthful dose of energy and exhuberance that insures the People’s panto won’t feel stale.
Camilo Estrada is a winning Aladdin, portraying a sweet-natured hero the audience can root for. Samantha Funk is charming as Aladdin’s love interest Princess Mai Tai, and she has a lovely singing voice. Nichalas Parker as the Genius of the Lamp is outstanding, closing the first act and opening the second with a knock out-three wishes song and scene. Aladdin’s animal and insect friends are nicely played by Peter Danelski (Manny the Monkey) and Zach Aguilar (Morris the Mantis). Fu’s henchmen appear as corporate interns: Mike Dorsey, Melissa Barnathan, and on opening night, Tori Lewis.
Set designer James Pyne does a great job creating the many scene locations, which, to name a few, include an Arabian palace, the world of a video game, a pub, and even a magic carpet ride above the city. Costume designer Rosemarie McKelvey has a lot of fun with the Arabian costumes; and her creations range from simply beautiful (the dancing girl’s costumes and Princess Mai Tai’s costume), to fun (the outfits worn by both genis and the preying mantis), to outright hilarious (the belly dancer costume worn by Mark Lazar). Paul Hackenmueller lights the action with some enchanting special effects, and Michael Ogborn’s Arabian-tinged music adds to the merriment.
If you go: “Aladdin: A Musical Panto” will be on the Leonard C. Haas Stage in Malvern through January 7, 2018. People’s Light is located at 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355. For tickets, call 610-644-3500 or visit peopleslight.org.