Review – Sleeping Beauty – Greenwich Theater

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Andrew Pollard’s annual Panto offering at the Greenwich Theater has become one of my seasonal favorites … it has a genuine home-grown feel, with fresh talent, gaudy and cheery sets, and an emphasis on storytelling, music, and fun that make it heads above the very commercial outings that make it on the ATG circuit. Putting a TV star on stage, or the winner of a “talent” contest, might be a good way to sell tickets, but it does not guarantee a good show. But taking a talented team and bringing them back together year after year – and fleshing the group out fresh drama school graduates getting lucky breaks – ensures the show itself is the star, and lucky audience members get to see the results – a panto with lots of laughs at a price you can afford.

This year the panto is Sleeping Beauty and it’s a celebration of the Greenwich theater’s 50th anniversary. Now, it seems unlikely that this theater is actually only 50 years old, but it did actually wake from a “long sleep” in the 60s, when it was refurbished after spending many years as a bombed out wreck. So the story of a young actor discovering a treasure in the storage area of the old theater isn’t too far off – only in the version we see on stage, what Ewan (Regan Burke) finds is a magic egg – the Fairy Faberge (Funlola Olufunwa) that transports him back from the swinging 60s to Russia in the age of the Czar.

Now the Russia scenes were where I was really grooving on this show. The backdrops of painted buildings with spiraling eggs on top were so pretty, and I loved the interiors that had designs taken off of Russian eggs. It’s also not the fantasy world I usually think of for Sleeping Beauty, though it was very much a fantasy because the Tsar was “Ivan the Slightly Irritable” (Martin Johnston) and his enemy was Rasputin (Anthony Spargo), who got a loud accompaniment of “Rah Rah Rasputin” every time he came on stage, much to MY delight (I’m a fan of music of that era). I think Baba Yaga would have made more sense, but she doesn’t have a catchy tune. The Princess (Anastasia – of course! – Esme Bacalla-Hayes) was pretty and lovable and had SUCH a voice, can I say her version of “Seasons of Love” was my musical highlight of the evening?

Of course we all know that neither the male nor female lead can be the star of the show – it has to be the dame! And Andrew Pollard as Tsarina Bertha delivers in spades, with an endless series of corny costumes, many bad jokes (I honestly had no idea a black pudding was shaped like a sausage), and enough ad lib to keep the rest of the cast very much on their toes. The designated audience target was not playing along very well the night I went, however, and everything seemed fairly controlled – things will probably become even sillier as the run progresses (this review was on press night, a week after it started).

Things became VERY silly when the Anastasia and the court reconvened in the 60s – in fact, they went to the moon! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dame in a space suit, and I’ve certainly never pelted the stage with moon rocks before! Somehow the kids managed to NOT actually hurt anyone, and we of course had a happy ending – much like the Greenwich Theater has.

That said – I almost feel like this panto was playing it a bit safe – almost no political jokes, although a reasonable dose of off color ones. I wonder: has the political situation become so dire that even a smaller theater is afraid to tweak the nose of the rich? Or perhaps Pollard was thinking his jokes could go stale overnight with an election smack in the middle of the run! Hard to say but I think the rich and politicians could have used QUITE a bit more being made fun of. Hopefully next year we’ll get a bit of zip and zing back in it – Panto is one of the few places where the disempowered fight back, and I want to see more of this!

(This review is for a show that took place on Friday, November 29, 20119. It runs until January 12th.)

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