IF YOU GO
“Aladdin: A Musical Panto” runs through Jan. 7, at People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Road in Malvern. For tickets call 610-644-3500 or go to www.peopleslight.org
It’s likely that no sultan, sheik or caliph of ancient times ever heard the yarn about the kid with the magic lamp and the flying carpet. Their loss is our gain.
Since the story of Aladdin didn’t appear in translations of “A Thousand and One Nights” until the 18th century (and may have been the creation of a French writer) it’s long been available for adaptation. No local theater company is more adaptable than People’s Light in Malvern when they choose the theme for their popular annual holiday panto.
For those new to the tradition, a panto is a British stage import performed at holidays that takes a familiar story and adds a lot of music, comedy, dance and derring-do mixing current events with lots of pop culture references. The audience is encouraged to cheer the hero and (loudly) boo the villain. It’s very kid-focused but here are enough jokes, action and wry asides to keep adults engaged.
“Aladdin: A Musical Panto,” co-written by People’s Light company members Pete Pryor and Samantha Reading and directed by Prior clearly benefits from his direction of the merry mayhem in the company’s previous nine pantos including an Aladdin panto in 2012. Reading’s extensive fight direction and choreography experience and the addition of many new faces from outside Malvern adds freshness to the production.
To get a sense of what watching Aladdin is like, imagine being digitized and inserted into YouTube where you frolic among the content … to your heart’s content. The pace is fast and attention must be paid to catch the many references. In fact, during the show (in an inspired piece of video projected onto the stage) Aladdin actually flies the aforementioned carpet though a barrage of video games and inside YouTube where he, the heroine and the villain clamber about those familiar video windows filled with silly cat tricks, movie trailers and hucksters uncountable.
The plot (as if a panto really needed one) involves (Yeaa!) Aladdin (Camilo Estrada) and his video game-designing friends Manny the Monkey (Peter Danelski) and Morris the Mantis (Zach Aguilar) who just want to have fun and write the code for the awesomest adventure game ever. But they are caught up in the schemes of (Boooo!) the evil Fu (Christopher Patrick Mullen) an exceptionally untrustworthy advisor to the Sultan of Paolistein (Kim Carson).
Fu wants both the magic lamp and the unwilling hand of the Sultan’s daughter Mai Tai (Samantha Funk) whose charm and powerful voice once filled the Disney Cruise Line theaters and now wows local audiences.
It’s not really necessary to pay close attention to the plot as the silly songs, pratfalls, cross-dressing and bad puns are what panto audiences come to see and hear.
A uniformly excellent cast features newcomers Estrada, Aguilar, Danelski, Funk, and Nichalas L. Parker as the confident and charming Genie of the Lamp. Balancing their energy are the steady hands of People’s Light company members Mullen as Fu and, returning to the roles they played in 2012, there’s Mark Lazar in the latest designer fashions as Scheherazade the narrator and Aladdin’s mom the Widow Twankey, Carson as the pompous but sly and scene-stealing Sultan, Susan McKey as the excitable Nurse and the droll and good-natured Genius of the Ring, played with appropriate wit and style by company legend Tom Teti.
Music, so critical to the panto, includes a lively score and lyrics by Michael Ogborn performed with a cool take on the frantic action by music director Thomas Fosnocht III and drummer Kanako Omae Neale.