Irene and I were unable to see a panto while in London, so our next best bet was to see Panto Sleeping Beauty in Houston, at Stages. This is Stage's second panto (I didn't get to see last year's Panto Cinderella) and Kenn McLaughlin hopes to make this an annual tradition, which I think could rival A Christmas Carol or Santa Land Diaries at The Alley. An annual panto--a much beloved tradition in the U.K.--seems like a smart move to me, though not necessarily an inexpensive or easy one to make: this year's features eighteen actors (six Equity) and a six-piece band. Fortunately, the evening is a blast. And as an annual tradition, I like the tone of the piece: humane and warm without being treacly sweet. We get enough of treacle with shows such as A Christmas Carol.
Kenn McLaughlin wrote the book and Lyrics and David Nehls wrote the music of what they bill as "An outrageous Family Musical," which is about right. The show is comfortably and marginally risque (for the adults) as well as silly and gently moralizing (for the children). It's also well-pieced together. The story holds together cleverly enough to satisfy our atavistic expectations for plot, while driving off wildly on unrelated tangents whenever it wants, for the hell of it. The music is good (because I'm out of my welkin in jotting notes about a musical, "good" is about as specific as I can get. I'm sort of stupid, here.) The actors--especially Susan Draper, Jimmy Phillips, Chris Zelko, and Carolyn Johnson--can sing, and do. They're also very funny--especially Jimmy Phillips in a Dame Edna turn, and Carolyn Johnson as a joyfully delicious evil wit--sorry, I mean faerie.
I'm not familiar with other holiday offerings around town, but my hunch is that Stages' annual panto fills a gap between more sugary family entertainments and more biting, adult satires or outright protests to this season's enforced good cheer. That works well for me.