English pantomimes have an image problem. Mention the term to the average person, as I recently did, and you get two responses “What’s that?” or “You mean mimes?”
I didn’t know what one was either until Alan Bryce started producing them at Federal Way’s Centerstage Theatre several years ago.
First, let’s get that word, pantomime, out of the way. There is no miming or wild gesturing. This is a musical mash-up of fairytale, song, jokes, dancing and audience participation. You’re never quite sure if you’re watching a kids’ show or adult content. In the end, it doesn’t matter. Just check the “All of the above” box and enjoy it.
That’s what I did when I attended Centerstage’s latest pantomime, “Pinocchio,” now playing through Dec. 23. Directed by Vanessa Miller, it was a rollicking, fast paced farce centered around the Pinocchio tale.
There were plenty of kids in attendance but plenty of humor was geared for an adult audience. It’s a cliché, I know, but this is really a production the whole family can enjoy.
For some reason pantomimes are a Christmas tradition in Britain but the thematic material has little to do with the season.
The fourth wall comes tumbling down every few minutes – on purpose – when the audience is invited to boo, hiss, cheer and talk back with the cast. The kids in the audience enjoyed that aspect of the show. Several were invited on stage.
There are some standout performances in the group: Daniel Goodman uses his entire body to become the famous marionette. But whenever he tried to voice the creepy looking cricket puppet he carried with him the show hit serious road bumps. Why not have an actor play good ol’ Jiminy Cricket?
Bob De Dea shows perfect comic timing in his portrayal of Geppetta, a feminized version of Geppetto. (Gender-switching actors is a time-honored panto tradition.)
Daneil Wood plays Stromboli as a cartoonish villain, walking a delicious line between evil and humor and generating willing boos and hisses from the audience. Hannah Mootz, in another gender switch role, nails the smarmy Lampwick, Stromboli’s henchman.
As the princess Sonya Meyer turned out a fine musical performance but I wish more thought had been given to her and her troop of “BFFs” visual character development. All of them appeared as if they had just gotten off school, fresh from a yearbook shoot. Compared to the other cast members’ outlandish costumes it was a strange incongruity.
Written by John Forster with musical direction by David Duvall, the production makes great use of topical and timely humor and music. An “American Idol” type contest is held while the cast is trapped in the belly of a whale – A killer whale, naturally. De Dea, as Geppetta, channels Susan Boyle in her now famous “Les Miseralble” number.
It all makes for a fun and fast paced show. Go see it. Ten more shows are on the schedule beginning with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday.
Who: Centerstage Theatre
When: 7 p.m. evenings and 2 p.m. matinees. See website for complete schedule
Where: Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way
Tickets: $27.50 with discounts for seniors, youth and military