I don’t know what impresses more about the annual panto tradition at People’s Light: that the company invests what’s ostensibly a children’s show with a considerable wealth of performing and design talent, or that it creates each of these holiday spectacles as a one-time-only run (the rare exception being when the company restaged its 2008 hit Cinderella for the 10th anniversary panto in 2013).
For Sleeping Beauty: A Musical Panto, the creators certainly achieved the first of those goals. Panto veterans Pete Pryor and Samantha Reading mashed together the traditional Sleeping Beauty narrative with the Moon (Tabitha Allen) and Star (Abigail Brown) falling out of the sky. Pryor and Reading set this story against that of a king (Tom Teti) who bans all records and record players from the fictional land of Paoli Shoals after his ex-wife Chanteuse (Kim Carson) puts a curse on Sleeping Beauty (Ariana Sepulveda) that she will one day prick her finger on the needle of a record player. (Part of the audience participation involves Teti's explaining to kids under 15 what a record player was.)
Alex Bechtel’s original music impresses, drawing on classic rock from Elton John to Journey, with stirring piano riffs reminiscent of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian.” His skimpy lyrics don’t always live up to the quality of his compositions, but nonetheless provide easy sing-alongs for the kids in the audience.
Carson displays her tremendous vocal talent on several numbers, rocking out in a Pat Benatar-inspired mullet and headband and sporting a tiger-print coat over zebra-striped pants. With her comic-book faux-British accent, she makes an intentionally laughable foil for Susan McKey’s oddities-collecting Aunt Tikki (get it: "Antique"?).
A trio of musical animals (Josh Totora, Emily Kaye Lynn, and Brendan Norton) accompany keyboardist Thomas Fosnocht III on guitar, banjo, and accordion. Nikki Delhomme’s costumes shine here, dressing Norton’s Mudbug in a Sergeant Pepper-era red pantsuit, and giving Totora’s Sam Slug brown leather pants and a sportcoat to lend credibility to his protests that he’s a snail without a shell.
Pryor’s direction fills the show with comedy, ranging from a Three Stooges-style soft shoe (while hanging wallpaper), to kid-friendly references to Marvel Comics and James Bond and some obscure nods for the much older adults (example: a decades-old Smith Barney slogan).
The visually and auditorily dazzling production charmed Sunday evening’s audience full of children and families, with Brown, a sixth-grader, beaming in her role and delighting with her comic dancing and timing (Reading’s choreography cleverly combined Charleston steps with gestures from Michael Jackson’s "Thriller"). Like the other pantos, this show can start a holiday tradition the entire family can enjoy.
Sleeping Beauty: A Musical Panto. Through Jan. 15 at People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern. Tickets: $41-$89.34. Information: 610-644-3500 or peopleslight.org.