Few people in the United States know about British pantomimes, also known as pantos, but they have been a beloved holiday in London for decades and at Centerstage Theatre in Federal Way for the past 11 seasons.
A panto is an outlandish fairy tale retold as an extended Vaudeville routine for children and adults with stock characters.
There is always a fairy godmother and a friendly character who narrates the story and one or more overly ugly “women” (men in outrageous drag), sometimes beautiful women playing men, a handsome prince (often played by a woman), bad jokes and worse puns.
There also are tons of local references and topical humor such as slams on places such as Fife and Enumclaw and jokes like being mad because the Seahawks traded Richard Sherman to the Forty-niners; a lot of audience participation and finally a lot of rocking music, often popular music updated with comical lyrics.
“Rapunzel” is the story of the beautiful princess, Rapunzel (Jessie Selleck), who was locked in a tower all her life and grew her hair absurdly long — it has to be seen to be believed — and how she was rescued from her imprisonment by the handsome Prince Caspian (Joshua Jerard).
The humor, which is both topical and local, begins with the names of some of the characters, such as Dame Fanny Smalls (Brad Cerenzia), Fairy Good (Jenna McRill) and Fairy Nuff (Michelle Abad).
Cameron Waters as the narrator Sammy Smalls (Dame Fanny Smalls’ son) primes the audience like an announcer on a TV show warming up the audience. He tells them when to applaud and cheer and to boo and hiss whenever the evil fairy, Gothel (Deanna Martinez) comes on stage.
Waters and Martinez are the life of the performance.
Martinez nails the stereotypical evil witch character with her snarling and sneering and her attempts to romantically snare willing and/or reluctant men in the audience. She is big, brash and wonderful. Waters is as loveable as a character can be in the role of the narrator. His energy and his range of expression is perfect.
Selleck as the title character displays an ability to run words together in breathlessly long sentences that will rattle your head. And she sings beautifully — especially mesmerizing in her solos on “How far I’ll Go” and “When Will My Life Begin.”
Jerard as Prince Caspian also sings terrifically and is funny and loveable.
Also notable are performances by John Kelleher as King Bertie; Barrett Penrod, a member of the large ensemble whose dancing and broad gestures are delightful; and Leila Neidlinger as the Fairy Queen and a member of the youth ensemble. Neidlinger is a fourth grader with acting chops worthy of an experienced adult. Watch for her to light up stages for years to come.
The wild antics appeal to children in the audience, while the ridiculous puns and topical humor appeal to the adults. In previous years, a lot of the adult humor took the form of slightly risqué barbs and double entendre, but not so much this year.
Two warnings: First, you might not be able to escape the audience participation, and second, at almost three hours, including intermission, it is long for a show appealing to children — but it did seem to wholly hold their rapt attention.
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, through Dec. 23.
Where: Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way.
Tickets: $35 adults, $30; seniors, military, $15; youth (18-23), $12, 17 and younger (plus 5 percent City of Federal Way admission tax).