CINDERELLA (People’s Light): The Return of an Award-Winning Panto

Cinderalla People's Light

Jillian Shea Spaeder, Josh Totora, Alex Bechtel, and Liz Filios as the band of animals in People’s Light & Theatre Company’s CINDERELLA (Photo credit: Mark Garvin).

In celebration of its tenth anniversary season of wintertime pantos—the British musical-comedy holiday tradition combining familiar children’s stories with Vaudevillian-style routines, audience participation, and current local references—People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern is presenting a remount of CINDERELLA, its most acclaimed panto to date. When it premiered in 2008–with a witty book by Kathryn Petersen, lively music and lyrics by Michael Ogborn, and zany direction by Pete Pryor–the reimagined version of the well-known 18th-century fairytale garnered a total of four Barrymore Awards for the company.

Set in the Roaring Twenties in the not-so-distant land of Malvernistan, the rollicking revival pays homage to the era of jazz, prohibition, gangsters, flappers, and silent films with an original murder-mystery plot, live piano and percussion (by musical director Ryan Touhey and Kanako Omae-Neale), lavish colorful sets (by James F. Pyne, Jr.), a delightful video chase sequence coordinated with live action (video design by Jorge Cousineau), and dazzling period-style costumes (by Rosemarie E. McKelvey), with a magical transformation of Cinderella’s plain home-made dress into a glittering gown for the ball. Quotations from post-1920s plays and movies, along with allusions to Miley Cyrus and the US government shutdown (“That would be irresponsible”), add clever contemporary laughs to the story and score, and challenge the adult members of the audience to recognize the rapid-fire references.

Kim Carson stars in People’s Light & Theatre Company’s CINDERELLA (Photo credit: Mark Garvin)

Kim Carson stars in People’s Light & Theatre Company’s CINDERELLA (Photo credit: Mark Garvin).

Kim Carson brings a cheerful, sweet, and gentle spirit of goodness and hope to the mistreated [Cinder]Ella, along with a crystal clear voice and graceful dance moves (choreography by Samantha Bellomo).  Mark Lazar is a crowd-pleaser in his familiar panto role of the Dame (a larger-than-life female character played by an actor in drag), this time as Ella’s dead mother turned fairy treemother Hazel, and Joilet Harris as the wicked stepmother Baroness Lucretia Loosestrife is a deliciously hiss-able villainess. Susan McKey turns in a fine comedic performance as the mean and pretentious stepsister Poinsianna, an aging flapper-wannabe with an omnipresent cigarette holder, and Tom Teti is a sympathetic father to Ella, tricked into marriage by the conniving Lucretia for the good of his motherless daughter. But the true highlights of the show are the scenes with the debonair Jeffrey Coon as Prince Aidan of Sargasso and the Chaplinesque Christopher Patrick Mullen as his haughty valet Barnaby, with their masterful song-and-dance numbers, perfectly timed physical interplay, spot-on British accents, and range of understated but palpable emotions.

Despite some distasteful low-brow humor and missteps–with the nasty stepsister Invasia (Leah Poyo) constantly picking her nose, passing gas, and biting her toenails; the insulting use of Brooklyn accents to indicate the low-class breeding of the quartet of singing and kazoo-playing anthropomorphic animals that befriend Ella (the engaging and harmonious Alex Bechtel as Tom Cat, Liz Filios as Sudsy Squirrel, and Josh Totora as Big Gus the Rat, with 10-year-old Jillian Shea Spaeder as Flea); and Sudsy’s big ears that are more reminiscent of Minnie Mouse than a squirrel– the show, especially in the high-energy second act, provides a lot of fun and laughs for the whole family. November 20, 2013-January 12, 2014, Leonard C. Haas Stage; PeoplesLight.org.

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.