Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: Aladdin

Cinderella, People's Light and Theatre Company's annual holiday panto, reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: Aladdin


By Wendy Rosenfield

For the Inquirer

In the pantheon of People’s Light and Theatre pantos, Cinderella, the company’s 2009 Barrymore Awards-sweeping vaudevillian adaptation, stands as a Jupiter of the form. While the panto, a holiday-time descendent of commedia dell’arte, includes a standard set of conventions--candy-tossing, drag-wearing, audience participation--that year’s effort was anything but conventional; innovative, even.  

So, let’s call this year’s Aladdin their Juno.  Coming in a close second--this is People’s Light’s ninth year of producing pantos--Aladdin again pairs composer/lyricist Michael Ogborn with director Peter Pryor, who’s also responsible, with Samantha Bellomo, for the show’s book, itself taking cues from the traditional tale, its Disney cousin, Shakespeare and Rudolph Valentino, among other influences. This winning production team also includes returning videographer Jorge Cousineau, with a hilarious tribute to silent film melodrama set aboard a flying carpet, and costumer Rosemarie McKelvey, with sight gags such as a dormer-windowed gown for Mark Lazar’s (People’s Light’s perennial dress-clad Dame) Widow Twankey-- both literally and figuratively roomy.

While it’s great to see old favorites return, such as Lazar, Justin Jain as Aladdin, and Andrew Kane, as Aladdin’s Praying Mantis pal Morris (his understandable fear of romance gets one of the show’s biggest laughs), this year’s newcomers bring the story’s real magic. Meera Mohan’s Princess Mai Tai looks like Disney’s Jasmine, but sings with gorgeous force and clarity in all three dimensions. Ed Swidey’s evil, campy Fu, corrupt head of his own carny boardwalk empire and team of ninjas, conducts the audience response like a maestro, egging on a steady stream of boos and hisses; and I’m talking a whole crowd of grownups out-shouting their kids. And it’s some accomplishment to give gravitas to a shirtless, gold lame harem pants-clad lamp genie, but kudos to Larry Grant Malvern for doing it well, and looking great besides.

Even Ryan Touhey’s hard-working musical direction brings out the best in this cast, whether they’re going for laughs or soaring solos. Alladin’s one show for which People’s Light could easily cut their butterscotch and peppermint budge and forget handing out candy; the excitement on this stage beats a sugar rush any day.

AladdinPlaying at: People’s Light and Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern. Through Sunday, Jan. 4. Tickets: $35 to $45. Information: 610-644-3500 or

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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