A DMV holiday tradition is sticking around a bit longer than usual this year, which is a treat for the end of the decade. The British Players’ annual panto is here, and this year it will take you on a journey to Wonderland.
For those of you who are not familiar with panto, or pantomime in its full nomenclature, it is British by origin and richly connected to the culture. Modern panto, dating as far back as the early 1800’s, involved taking a traditional fairy or folk tale and adapting it with contemporary music, adding jokes, and making it interactive to an audience that would mostly be made up of families with small children. Today, the music can range from standards, to Broadway, to pop- and there is always at least one sing along with the audience.
… a phantasmagorical delight…
Panto also has some stock characters that are usually present- the dame (played by a man), the panto prince (played by a woman) and several others, including an evil villain and a clown that acts as comic relief. All of these are present in this year’s production, with “Alice in Wonderland” being the most recent story to get the panto treatment by the British Players.
While most of the familiar characters from Lewis Carroll’s iconic story are present, there are a few adjustments to the story to make it fit the panto mold a bit better. In this version, Alice (Amanda Dullin-Jones) is a ward of Ms. Hackett’s Home for Lost and Unwanted Children. In Wonderland, the While Rabbit (Clare Palace) meets with her good friend Jack (Emilia O’Connor), but they both soon find themselves on the wrong side of Wonderland’s murderous sovereign- the Queen of Hearts (Laura W. Andruski.) They are told that it will be “off with their heads!” if they do not find a special clock that she wants. This clock is owned… by Alice. They are also told to steal the watch and to kill the girl, but neither can do it when they go to grab the watch. When Alice wakes and sees that her watch has been stolen, she climbs down the rabbit hole to find it, and is soon joined by the sturdy Russian cook from the school (the dame played by Chuck Hoag.)
They then meet many of the characters that we are familiar with from the story: the March Hare (Francis Hoag) and the Hatter (Francesca Pisano), the Cheshire Cat (Amber Smith), Tweedle Dee (Kathy Suydam) and Tweedle Dum (Meghan Williams Elkins) and more. However, in this story Alice and these characters need to band together to save Wonderland from the evil plans of the Queen before it’s too late.
This show is a tradition that families seek out year after year, and this one does not disappoint. It is some frivolous fun that children of all ages can enjoy. There are a lot of fun songs from a plethora of genres- from the opening number being an adaptation of the opener to the musical “Pippin,” to the dance party set to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams that opens Act II. There also might be the appearance of a certain earworm that held a place in the recent World Series victory of the Washington Nationals.
While the whole show is a delight, there are a few standout performances. Dullin-Jones is funny and lovely as the titular character- her solo in the first act of “Whistle a Happy Tune” from the musical “The King and I” sets her character’s point of view for the show and her voice is strong and clear. She also similarly impresses in “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in Act II. Chuck Hoag is hilarious in his role as “Cookie,” complete with a heavy Russian accent and strong improv skills. He had an interaction with an audience member at the performance I attended that left everyone in stitches. He also showcased his lovely baritone on the Monkee’s “Daydream Believer” in Act I.
My other favorite performance was by Williams-Elkins as Tweedle Dum. She cultivated an excellent character voice that had the audience chuckling, and her and Suydam made an effective comedic pair in their duet of “Together Wherever We Go” from the musical “Gypsy.” Palace was adorable and memorable as the White Rabbit, and O’Connor was inspiring as the plucky Jack. Colin Davies showed an impressive character arc as the King, and Andruski was charmingly diabolical as the Queen. The younger cast members were also a great addition to the show. Their performance of “Little People” from “Les Miserables” was funny and adorable The ensemble numbers were also a lot of fun.
One of the best things about this show were the costumes and make-up. Because of the fantastical nature of Wonderland, these are above and beyond your average expectations. The makeup, especially on the White Rabbit, Hatter, Cheshire Cat, and Caterpillar, was intricate and beautifully ornate. Congratulations to Linda Wilson and Cathy Dunn for excellent work. Also, the costumes were colorful and appropriately whimsical- impressive work by Justine Crimans and Nicola Hoag. The set was also a huge part of the show, and was alive with color- commendations go to Mac McCord, Robert Leembruggen, Mike Lewis, and Albert Coia. Overall this production was a phantasmagorical delight- director Pauline Griller-Mitchell is to be congratulated.
Running Time: approximately 2 hours at Kensington Town Hall.
Note: Children are seated on a large carpet at the front of the stage to fully take part in the action. While this production can be fun for young children, parents need to sit with younger children so they do not disrupt the show.
Usually panto ends before the holidays, but this season there is still one weekend to get your ticket to Wonderland- the show has three performances remaining. There is a Friday evening show on January 3rd, and then a matinee and evening show on Saturday January 4th. Information on tickets can be found here.