SHERMAN — For the third year in a row, The Sherman Players are presenting a “Christmas Panto” — something that is traditional in Britain, and hopefully will become a tradition here as well, since the two that I’ve seen (last year’s Cinderella, and this year’s Aladdin) — are rollicking good fun, designed to entertain young children, but delightful fun for grownups as well.
The show combines lively music and serious vocal talent with campy female impersonation, topical humor, and a cast that is a seamless mix of kids and adults, while the audience sings along, and shouts out helpful advice.
It all begins with Christine Amorin, as Scheherazade, the soothsayer and narrator who belts out her songs in the style of Ethel Merman. Scheherazade tells the story of how Aladdin, the pure hearted son of the poor washerwoman, the Widow Twankey, thwarts the machinations of the wicked magician, Abanazar, and wins the heart and hand of Princess Badroulbadour.
The heavily bejeweled Martin Rosato is clearly evil as the magician, who covets the magic lamp which would give him power over the whole world. Fortunately the kids in the audience are savvy enough to warn young Aladdin not to trust the scoundrel.
Thomas Ovitt, who played Buttons in Cinderella, is most appealing as the adventurous young man, who risks his life first to steal apples for his hungry friends on the street, and then to confront the princess, with whom he immediately falls in love. It is to make his fortune, in order to win the princess, that leads him to go with the magician in search of the lamp.
For the adults in the audience, however, the absolute center of the show is Bruce Tredwell, in drag, as the Widow Twankey. Whether he is dominating the stage, or cruising the aisles of the theater to flirt with the nearest men, Tredwell is over the top, and very very funny, worth the price of admission alone
Another treat is Elizabeth Hawley as the Genie of the Lamp (well, you know the story). With a rich soprano voice that is as beautiful as she is herself, this prep school math teacher by day is a pillar of the theater in her spare time.
Two other Sherman regulars, Katherine and David Almquist, do an amusing take as the Empress of Arabia and the Grand Vizier, who are quick to ordain decapitation, of anyone who dares look at their daughter, the princess, but ready to reconsider when enough money is involved.
Maya Daley is a fine princess, and Julie-Anne Brand is an appealing Slave of the Ring. Jack Day is very cute as Aladdin’s kid brother, Wishee Washee, and the ensemble of Baghdad personages is rounded out by Ava Biondino, Cheyenne Brown, Spencer Lee Hauspurg, Gabriel Fowler, Danford Knowlton, Jessica Gleason, Lynn Nissenbaum, Daniele Biondino, Lorina Milay, and Lee Johnson.
Director Patricia Michael knows what she is doing, and she also designs a fine set. This one is particularly ambitious with various painted scenes of Baghdad streets and an Egyptian tomb, as well as a splendid palace (provided by the genie) and a gloomy cave whose walls light up with multi-colored jewels after Aladdin rubs the lamp.
This is a painless way for adults to introduce young kids to the pleasures of live theater. Kindergarteners on up will follow the story avidly and enjoy the chance to be interactive with the characters, older kids can appreciate the acting by their teenage peers, and everyone can tap their feet and feel energized by the terrific singing, with keyboard accompaniment by Musical Director Joanne F. Archibald.
(Performances are Friday evenings at 8 pm, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2, until January 5. There are no Saturday evening performances for this production.
Tickets for all shows are $20 for adults, and $10 for children 12 and under. Reservations can be made online at www.shermanplayers.org or by calling the box office at 860-354-3622.
The Sherman Playhouse is a local, non-Equity theatre company located at 5 Route 39 North next to the firehouse in Sherman.)