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 www.PeoplesLight.org.