Now Through December 19th
El Portal Theatre
5269 Lankershim Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601
“Cinderella,” the live stage production at the El Portal Theater, is not your mother’s version of the classic fairy tale… unless your mother happens to hail from the United Kingdom, or one of the countries in the Commonwealth. That’s because this “Cinderella” is an English panto.
The word is short for pantomime, but it’s not the same thing as mime, a la Marcel Marceau. Pantos are produced throughout the UK during the Christmas season. They incorporate popular music, dancing, sight gags and jokes that could be described as somewhat risqué. You might say it’s a “Fractured Fairy Tale”: a cross between musical theater and vaudeville, with a little bit of Looney Tunes thrown in.
Plus, it’s interactive: The children in the audience are encouraged to hiss and boo the story’s villains – which in this production, include the two ugly stepsisters – who are being portrayed by blokes. Cross-gendered characters are a big part of the panto tradition, although, as director Bonnie Lythgoe points out, it’s played strictly for laughs. “We tried casting both, but the uglies were better with guys than girls,” Lythgoe says, “because young children will always be able to tell they’re not real. With guys, it’s fun time.”
Lythgoe has directed several pantos for the London stage, including productions that starred American actors like Henry Winkler and Patrick Duffy. But this is her first attempt at bringing the form to the United States, and that in itself poses a challenge. That’s because so few Americans have experienced an English panto.
“This is the most nervous I’ve ever been in Los Angeles while casting a show,” Lythgoe told us. “When we held the auditions, we had to educate the performers.” After all, America and England are not only separated by a common tongue – there is a real difference in our sense of humour – er, humor. “The structure of the show is the same, but we’ll definitely have different jokes,” she said.
The Anglo-American cast includes Malibu native Veronica Dunne in the title role, Jerry “The Beaver” Mathers as her father, and Harry Potter cast member Freddie Stroma as Prince Charming.