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Sleeping Beauty slept through a riot of laughter
Review by Peg Doman
We took six grandchildren to see “Sleeping Beauty”, a British-type panto (pantomime) at CenterStage Knutzen Family Theatre. The statistical breakdown of the grands are five girls and one boy consisting of the following; two five-year old girls; one six-year old girl, one nine-year old boy, and two twelve-year old-girls. These are the youngest of our eleven grandchildren and they all had a blast. I was a bit worried about the oldest twelve-year old – they seem to become a bit skeptical at this age, but she had a great time.
A panto is based on British music-hall or vaudeville production values. There are laughs galore, some slap-stick that the younger ones especially enjoyed, some very punny jokes that were over the younger kid’s heads but were really appreciated by the older kids and the adults. The British spirit of the production is symbolized by a very tall man who plays a female character.
This is Nurse Nellie (Roger Curtis), who is Princess Aurora’s nursery maid and teacher. She/he is hilarious, complete with an elaborate wig (think Marie Antoinette’s time) that doesn’t cover his hair in the back. (On purpose?) Also, Nurse Nellie is looking for a man, and Prince Michael of Normandy Park is very tasty to Nurse Nellie!
Prince Michael is played by Hilary Heinz, who also starred as Prince Charming in a previous production of “Cinderella” and whom we saw as Lady Caroline in “Enchanted April.” Despite her gender bending role, she did a wonderful job as a self-involved, privileged young man who rises to a challenge.
The first character on the stage is Merlin (David Bestock), the Camelot magician to King Gordon (Dale Bowers) and the Queen (whom we never see again, except as a member of the Ensemble). The time is the 13th or 14th century, and the King and Queen are the great grandparents of famous King Arthur.
Merlin also fills us in on the rules of panto: when the evil fairy shows up, the audience all yells “BOO” and hisses at her. (The kids loved this.) When the King says that he has destroyed all the spinning wheels in the kingdom to protect his daughter, we all yell out, “Except one!” When the wonderful Prince Michael of Normandy Park shows up and is named, the men all yell, “Hoo Ray!” And the women follow this with, “Whoo, whoo!” You get the picture, every lead character gets a response from the audience, and some members of the ensemble do as well. Merlin prompts us in all this.
After many years, the King and Queen are blessed with a daughter that they name Princess Aurora (Alicia Mendez). True to the old story, all the fairies are summoned to the Princess’s christening and they all come and bestow gifts on the infant princess. However, there is one fairy that was not invited because of her evil nature, Vuvuzela (Sally Brady). Well, of course, Vuvuzela shows up and gives her own “gift” to the baby: Aurora will live happily until the eve of her 18th birthday when she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and die.
Fortunately, the Lilac Fairy who was just beginning to give her gift, had not had time to say it when she was interrupted by the Black Fairy, Vuvuzela (also known as Maureen, but DON’T call her that; Vuvuzela does NOT like that name!).
As you can see from just this little snippet of the play, the jokes roll on and on. Our grandchildren gave noisier and noisier responses as the play went on. In one scene when all the principles are chased off the stage by Vuvuzela’s goons, Nurse Nellie came up and sat beside our two 12-year olds. They were thrilled.
When they got to an audience sing-along call and response song, they called up several volunteer children from the audience to hold the ridiculous names of the song’s bird, and our five-year old, Sophia, was called up to hold the last two names on a card to help the audience sing the final verse of the song. The bird’s names were ridiculous and when the song ended, a person came out from the wings and gave a small bag of chips to each child in appreciation for their participation. When they got to Sophia, they announced, “Oh, I’m sorry. The basket is empty.” Sophia looked crest-fallen, but just then someone came on the stage with a BIG bag of chips for her. She was thrilled.
I won’t tell you all the silly jokes or about the “vintage” popular songs that had new words for the production because I want you to enjoy the surprises.
I will tell you about one very silly joke series of songs. In the second act near the end, Merlin calls a halt to the action and asks the characters on the stage who they would be if they weren’t who they are. Each chose an occupation and sang a three sentence sequence with explanatory motions. For instance Nurse Nellie, who was the first asked, sang about being a postmaster. “Take the package, squash it flat and throw it over there.” As they added character after character to the line, the actions were hitting or impeding the adjacent characters’ movements. The kids loved this, too.
On our way to drop off three of the grandkids at home, they were all debating the exact words to each character’s alter ego’s song. Then they joined in chorus after chorus with their cousins, singing as well the words to “Ghostbusters”.
The costumes were appropriately medieval in character and the scenery was simple, but how sophisticated do the scenes need to be for a bunch of 12-year old and younger kids, and their 12-years-old-in-spirit parents and grandparents?
The band did a really good job of keeping the production moving along with appropriate music and sometimes, the audio controller in the audio/lighting booth would put a bit of a popular recording to set the stage.
The actors, young and old, were from around Pierce and King County and we loved their spirit of fun. Our grandchildren were charmed with the production as were my husband and I. When the play was over, the characters came out to the lobby to have their photos taken with the children from the audience. Our grandkids were thrilled. The guardians of the little ones filled out a slip with the child’s name and our email address and the photographer emailed the images to the email address. There was not enough space to give each child’ full name but they were all surnamed Doman so there wasn’t too much confusion.
“Sleeping Beauty” runs through December 22 and I highly recommend it to everyone, young and old. We’re thinking of getting a party of our friends to go – they enjoy the goofy jokes as well or better than the kids do.
For tickets and information, go online at CenterStage Knutzen Family Theatre, or call the box office at 253-661-1444. If you don’t buy a season ticket, the regular season general (18 and older) admission is $25 each; seniors 65 and over are $20 each; military with ID are $20 each; college students with ID are $20 each; youth 12 to 17; and children 11 and younger are $10 each. All our grandchildren fit within the youth and children age requirements, and we were pleased.
The next production is “My Way”, “a tribute to the great Frank Sinatra performed by four of the Region’s leading musical theatre artists. Buy 3, Get the 4th free during opening weekend only.” I’d love to see this one as well. I love Frank Sinatra’s middle-aged voice. When he first started out, he didn’t seem to reach the confidence he later did; and when he got older, he sang some contemporary songs with an out-of-appropriate style. I like the Capitol years.
Centerstage is located in the Dumas Center/Knutzen Family Theatre at 3200 Dash Point Road , just about a mile and a half beyond the Visitation Retreat Center (if you are coming from Tacoma .)