The latest world-premiere offering at People’s Light, in its annual homage to the British holiday tradition of family-friendly musical-comedy entertainment, is a side-splitting reimagining of Sleeping Beauty: A Musical Panto. Written by Director Pete Pryor and Choreographer Samantha Reading, with original music and lyrics by Alex Bechtel, the updated version of the medieval fairytale–popularized by Charles Perrault in the 17th century and the Brothers Grimm in the 19th—embellishes the beloved children’s story with zany new characters and situations, along with current references to local sites, classic rock, post-modern technology, and gender equality. So if you’ve ever wondered what the eponymous character has to do with singing bugs, the Rolling Stones, or a rocket ship, head on over to Malvern to find out!
Set in the usual “once upon a” but relocated to the swamps of “Paoli Shoals,” the panto’s wacky retelling draws on both the more familiar Part I of the classic tale (in which a Princess, enchanted by fairies, pricks her finger on a spinning-wheel spindle and falls into a hundred-years’ sleep, from which she can only be awakened by the kiss of a handsome Prince) and the lesser-known Part II (which introduces readers to the Prince’s mother, an ogre, along with the couple’s children, the Sun and the Moon).
But here, in this rock-‘n-roll mash-up, Princess Aurora is a smart and studious teen who’d prefer a career in science to life in a gilded cage at court, and the fairies are the estranged members of an all-female rock band who competed for the affections of her father the King (one is the stock panto character of the Dame, always played by a male; the other the evil singer jilted by him for Aurora’s mother, the late Queen). Instead of a spindle, the Princess is now to be stuck by a record needle, as the panto’s fictional land was a renowned production center for vinyl albums, until the industry was shut down and all record-players banned by the King to evade his daughter’s curse. If that weren’t enough, the Moon and a Star have fallen from the sky, so the Sun must work all day and night, on this, the Princess’s fateful sixteenth birthday, by which time the fairy “Cursespell” was destined to occur.
And that’s only the half of it! There is live music and dance, pratfalls, and dream sequences, candy-throwing and audience interactions, all of which the cast clearly enjoys as much as we do. And what a cast! Each and every one brings powerhouse vocals, impeccable comic timing, and an unbridled sense of enjoyment to this seasonal treat, in Pryor’s uproarious signature style and under Thomas Fosnocht III’s spirited musical direction.
Ariana Sepúlveda plays the titular Princess, embodying her no-nonsense intelligence and post-feminist preference for academic attire over frilly gowns, delivering her sound advice, and singing about her love of astrophysics (“Lost in the Stars”). Luke Bradt is the reluctant Boy who could save her from a century of sleep with a kiss, providing that he is her true love, and Hannah Van Sciver is his green ogre of a Mom, whose slapstick wallpapering and kiss-stealing scene with panto veteran Tom Teti as the King is a highlight of the show. Another is a comical ballet pas de deux performed by Tabitha Allen and the young Abigail Brown, who are absolutely glowing as the smiley Moon and Star.
Mark Lazar returns to his yearly role as the full-bodied long-lashed Dame, dressed in pink, prancing around the stage, flirting with men in the audience, and making risqué double-entendres. Panto regular Susan McKey is Aurora’s mysterious Aunt Tikki, who looks and acts the part of a hillbilly, but oddly spouts occasional passages of upper-class diction. And the captivating Kim Carson is back once again as the villain, eliciting enthusiastic boos and hisses from the crowd as the wicked rock star Chanteuse, who’s got an English accent, the look of Keith Richards, the moves like Jagger, and is “Bad Just Because.”
The vocals and dance numbers are backed off-stage by Fosnocht on piano and drummer Kanako Omae Neale in a bear suit, and on-stage by the terrific ensemble of actor/musicians Emily Kaye Lynn, Josh Totora, and Brendan Norton as Aurora’s anthropomorphic pals the Swampers–a trio comprised of Kerri Crane (sporting an avian mohawk), Sam Slug (who protests that he’s a snail, not a slug, but notes that “It’s okay, it’s an honest mistake”), and Mudbug (in colorful Sgt. Pepper attire). They, and all the other eccentric characters in the show, are well-defined by Nikki Delhomme’s imaginative costumes.
Along with its infectious humor and silliness, Sleeping Beauty: A Musical Panto imparts an important moral, in song and story, that there are endless “Possibilities” and “You can do anything you set your mind to.” That’s a great lesson for kids, and a valuable reminder for adults.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Sleeping Beauty: A Musical Panto plays through Sunday, January 15, 2017, at People’s Light, Leonard C. Haas Stage – 39 Conestoga Road, in Malvern, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (610) 644-3500, or purchase them online.