People’s Light Continues the Gift of Panto
For the past 16 years People’s Light and Theater has offered the theater going public of Philadelphia and the suburbs a wonderful holiday gift, the Panto. The panto has its roots in the Christmas pantomime and the Festival of Fools back in 18th century England. It remains the most popular theatre form in Great Britain. People’s Light for those 16 years have adapted children’s stories and added original music to create a precious holiday delight.
This year’s panto is titled Little Red Robin Hood directed with great energy by award winning director, Bill Fennelly. Obviously, it melds the Robin Hood story with Little Red Riding Hood. They have brought back the team of Kathryn Petersen (book) and Michael Ogborn (lyrics and music) who are responsible for four of the previous pantos. They have added new cast members and a fresh new approach although they have kept many of the old favorites, especially Mark Lazar as the extremely buxom Maud/Granny. He has mastered the art and it is delightful to see his new creation every year. His yearly love interest is played as usual by veteran company member Tom Teti. This year he is Friar Tuck and he does his usual fantastic job.
Every good panto must have a wonderful villain. This year is among the best I’ve ever seen. Mary Elizabeth Scallen is a longtime company member and has done pantos before, but she is magnificent as Lady Nottingham. She oozes evil and disdain and opening night was able to exercise her considerable ad lib talents. They made her throne to remind one of the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones. The script is fraught with innuendos and references to current events. It is this that makes this production equally entertaining for adults. The heroine of the play is Viveca Chow as Amelia/Little Red. She exudes joy and wonder and gives the younger audience someone to identify with. Lady Nottingham’s very reluctant associates are making their People’s Light debut. Hanna Gaffney as Matilda/Maid Marian and Armando Gutierrez as Lupo her killer wolf distinguish themselves with various numbers written for them.
Maud has a cadre of furry animal friends (no panto should be without them). They are played with incredible energy and flexibility by Susan McKey who has become as much a part of the panto as Mark Lazar, Eli Lynn another local favorite whose energy is indefatigable, and Victor Rodriguez Jr., a newcomer to the panto who fits in as if he were a lifer. As editor Floyd Flynn Finkelstein, Christopher Patrick Mullen, another veteran company member is wonderful. In my opinion he may be one of the Philadelphia area’s finest and most versatile actors. He is a gifted physical comedian as well as a moving dramatic actor, and apparently a loyal company member.
As the Ancient Oak and other characters Ebony Pullam is radiant and a gorgeous singer. Rounding out the cast is Tori Lewis who plays many ensemble roles with the energy of a lead.
As happens every year, the director gets great help from his veteran staff. First music director John Daniels does a wonderful job with the original music and with the aid of drummer Kanako Omae Neale keeps the cast singing. Michael Schweikardt’s set design is as beautiful as it is functional. Lighting designer Mike Inwood and sound designer Brent Hoyer complement his work delightfully. Richard St. Clair’s costumes were perfect for the characters. They are beautiful and functional. Stephen Casey’s choreography works great adapting to the varied experiences of the actors. Kudos should also go to Stage Manager Kate McSorley Fossner and her crew for without them the breakneck pace of the panto could not be realized.
Little Red Robin Hood runs until January 5th with several matinees. It is an ideal gift for young and old alike. You will be entertained and have fun with the entire family. Through the years I have taken my children and nieces and nephews. They have all enjoyed it. I’m sure you will too. For information call the box office at 610.644.3500. Discounts are available for groups of ten or more. For that information contact Kelly Benedict at 610.647.1900 Ext 111.