Theatergoers who have not yet discovered the insanity of British-style pantos should get to Centerstage Theatre in Federal Way to see “Little Red Riding Hood.”
A panto (short for pantomime, but nothing like mime as we know it) is a traditional fairy tale presented as a rip-roaring musical filled with puns and bad jokes, cross-dressing actors, and lots of audience participation. Children are encouraged to boo the bad guy and cheer the good fairy and to shout out key phrases whenever certain cues are given. And wow, do they ever respond with wild enthusiasm.
Yes, pantos are for kids, but there are many jokes and double-entendres that only the adults get, most of which are either risque jokes or local references.
The panto has been a Centerstage holiday tradition for 10 years now. The latest installment is “Little Red Riding Hood,” which features a good fairy called Fairy Dust (Trista Duval) in life-or death battle with the evil wizard, Magithor (Olivia Lee). And, of course, the traditional story of Little Red Riding Hood (Helen Martin) and the Big Bad Wolf (Adam Minton). Only in this version, the wolf is no longer bad. He’s a vegan, and he’s nice to everybody until Magithor puts a spell on him that turns him bad again.
“Little Red Riding Hood” is a lot of fun, but not quite as hilarious as some of the earlier pantos. Or perhaps I’ve simply become jaded after seeing so many of them. Zack Summers as Prince Brian sings terrifically, but his dancing and acting need to be more animated. The same can be said of Minton’s wolf, although his singing on the bad wolf song with Magithor rocks, and Lee belts out her part on this one with the kind of gusto Tina Turner could be proud of. Her performance as Magithor is captivating throughout. Also captivating and as loveable as any character in the play is Red Riding Hood’s brother Robyn (Taylor Davis).
Another panto tradition is to have a large man in drag play a very amorous woman who usually picks out a man in the front row to flirt with — so, gentlemen beware of front-row seats. In “Little Red Riding Hood” that character is Dame Hood, Red and Robyn’s mother, played by Centerstage artistic director Alan Bryce.
Pantos also feature set pieces that are like vaudeville routines and which have absolutely nothing to do with the story. Bryce and Taylor do the honors on a couple of these. In the first, they attempt quite incompetently to put up wallpaper in a routine like something from the Marx Brothers or perhaps a duet with Buster Keeton and Charlie Chaplin in which they keep trapping one another between two boards and end up covering each other with glue. The second of these vaudeville routines involves city names and highway signs. I never would have believed it possible to come up with so many silly puns based on Washington city names.
“Little Red Riding Hood” is a laugh fest and a joy to watch, with great pop music (with fractured lyrics). It is loud and exuberant, and rather long at almost three hours, but the kids in the audience at the opening matinee did not get tired. I suspect they could have happily gone another hour or two.
Check Alec Clayton’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.
Little Red Riding Hood
When: 7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays through Dec. 22.
Where: Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way.
Tickets: $35 adults; $30 seniors (65 and older) and military; $15 youths (18-25); and $12 for 17 and younger.
Information: 253-565-6867, centerstagetheatre.com.