The holidays mean a lot of different things to different people, but to the British and Anglophiles, it means something very special—it’s time for panto! The British Players deliver their annual holiday season panto with “Rapunzel: A Tangled Panto.”
For those unfamiliar with the British Players, they are a theatre group who were initially formed by local British employees of the UK embassy. Over the years, they have welcomed Americans into their ranks, but they have remained committed to presenting traditional British entertainment that they share with the community. One such tradition that they share each year is the holiday pantomime.
A pantomime is not what many Americans think of—soundless acts done by a person with white makeup and black clothes. British pantomime, which is a long time staple of the holiday season, is the comedic re-telling of a fable or faerie story and implements contemporary music, classic character tropes, and some of the corniest jokes you’ve ever heard. It also utilizes “breaking the fourth wall,” which not only allows, but actually encourages, the audience to cheer, boo, sing, and participate in the action of the play.
Director Nicola Hoag should be commended for assembling a production with moments of great laughter as well as deep feeling—it is truly a triumph.
“Rapunzel: A Tangled Panto” pulls story inspiration from both the classic versions of this tale and the more recent iteration by Disney—the animated feature, “Tangled.” In The British Players’ version, Rapunzel (Amanda D. Jones) has already had her first meeting with Prince George (Kris Humphrey) where the evil witch, Gothel (Missi Tessier), tossed him out of the tower. All of the events leading up to the start of the show—including the prince’s banishment and the King (Doug Richesson) and Queen’s (Lisa Singleton) arrangement with the witch that ultimately takes their daughter—are told through a shadow puppet show, which is incredibly unique and creative. It is also a great choice to set up the story quickly, but in an engaging way.
Once the story gets going, you meet some more important characters. First is one of the most important of any panto—the Dame. Miss Hetty Hairspray (Chuck Hoag) is up to her typical shenanigans, flirting with the silly Willy Widdle (Mark Crimans.) This all goes out the window once Prince George arrives and lets the kingdom know where Rapunzel is. Gothel is busy mustering more help, hiring the bungling duo of minions Ball (Sara Cath) and Socket (Andrew Harasty). But Rapunzel has some allies of her own in a trio of magical fairies—Fairy Good (Clare Palace), Fairy Well (Tia-Monet Flores), and Fairy Nuff (Francis Hoag.) All seems on the road to resolution, but Gothel still has some tricks up her sleeve. Will Rapunzel and Prince George get their happy ending?
The British Players’ annual panto has become one of my favorite traditions of the year. It is such a lovely chance to leave the complicated, and sometimes dour, world outside for a bit, and allow yourself to feel like a child again, cheering the hero and booing the villain. It is also so enjoyable to hear how the production pulls music from so many different genres and times—Broadway, pop, and standards. One particularly fun moment was a collaboration with another recent Disney musical in “We Don’t Talk About…Gothel.”
This cast was incredibly talented and so much fun. Jones brought both sweetness and spunk to Rapunzel, carrying the story. She especially shined in the poignant performance of the song “Some Things Are Meant To Be,” originally from the “Little Women” musical. Humphrey cuts a dashing figure as the prince, which, in traditional panto style, is played by a woman. Richesson and Singleton also delivered a lovely moment with the song “Our Daughter,” parodying “Our Children” from “Ragtime.” The beauty of this number was enhanced with a memory ballet sequence, featuring the very talented Molly Ross as the younger Rapunzel. Chuck Hoag absolutely split sides as the thirsty Hetty, delivering both corny jokes and musical moments with aplomb. Crimans paired with him perfectly and the two of them cracked us all up. Tessier delivered an amazing performance as Gothel—deliciously evil, but also exasperated with the antics of her minions. I loved her parody version of a favorite tune from “Hamilton”—you have to see it. Cath and Harasty also bring the laughs with their bungling at every step of Gothel’s plan. The fairies bring their own personalities and work together wonderfully as a team. Palace, Flores, and Hoag are a ton of fun. The show is also benefitted by a strong ensemble, doing everything from tap dancing to playing cute mice.
The show was also helped by some amazing production work. The set design by Mike Lewis was inspired, with a screen embedded into a circular shape into a backdrop. It was an amazing highlight for the shadow play at the start, and made the scene changes quick and efficient. The costumes by Justine Crimans were bright and vibrant, representing each character well. I also loved the creative interpretation of Rapunzel’s hair. The sound by Sarah Katz was also excellently balanced and the live band, under the musical direction of Chuck Hoag, greatly added to the experience. Choreographed by Shannon Cron, with Molly Ross as the Dance Captain, the dancing was also a feast for the eyes. Many different styles were included and all were excellent. Director Nicola Hoag should be commended for assembling a production with moments of great laughter as well as deep feeling—it is truly a triumph.
If you have a spare moment this holiday season, this reviewer strongly recommends grabbing the whole family and heading to Kensington Town hall for some real holiday cheer. Oh, yes you should!
Running time: Approximately two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: Stage smoke. Treat bags handed out to children in the audience. If you do not wish to have one, please politely decline.
“Rapunzel: A Tangled Panto” runs through January 7, 2023, presented by The British Players at Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell Street, Kensington, MD 20895. For tickets and more information, go online.