Plano — Theatre Britain may have the savviest theater comeback story of any local group in the past decade—and that’s because it never really went away. Even after full seasons stopped years ago as the group took a hiatus to regroup and relocate, the one annual staple was the holiday panto.
Pantos are a popular Christmas tradition in England, and Theatre Britain wasn’t about to let go of the distinction as the only North Texas group to keep the dame fun going. Now that the group is back to full seasons—2014 was the first one, and the 2015 season has four slots, including a return of Old Time Music Hall, and producing in Plano’s Cox Building Playhouse—the panto remains a highlight of holiday theater happenings.
This year’s is Beauty and the Beast, written by TB’s go-to panto-maker Jackie Mellor-Guin, who also wrote the lyrics to bouncy new songs composed and arranged by Aaron Fryklund.
If you haven’t seen a panto yet, Beauty is a great way to acquaint yourself. They’re always based on a fairy tale, and include wacky songs, jokes, audience sing-alongs, call-and-response, and stock characters, most notably the Dame, a man dressed comically in drag. Here, it’s Mrs. T Time (hysterically played by Ivan Jones).
Director and TB Artistic Director Sue Birch, along with set designer Darryl P. Clement and costumer Tony Padden, have loads of fun with this story, which follows the original story of a young woman Belle (a delightful Kate Dressler) who ends up saving her father (Joshua Adkisson) by taking his place as prisoner in the Beast’s (Matthew Stepanek) castle. There she falls in love with the kind and gentle creature, his spell is broken and he becomes the handsome prince. It’s the most touching of the happily-ever-afters, considering that it’s one of the few times when the outdated cliché of the handsome prince swooping in and saving the damsel doesn’t apply. (At least, if Disney is to be believed.)
Octavia Y. Thomas and Devon Rose are a hoot as Belle’s sisters Fanny and Freda; the same goes for Michael Speck as another comic character, Mr. Hob Nob. Caitlin Duree plays the breeches narrator role, Felan, pronounced “feelin’,” which leads to many pun ops. And because this is the world of panto and casting doesn’t need to make any sense, it’s OK that Adkisson plays the father, even though he looks the same age as Belle.
Go in expecting lots of wackiness for the kids and double entendres for the adults, and you’ll have a ball.