Pantin’ after panto

Peter Pan: A British Panto

Hey, watch where you’re puttin’ that hook! They don’t call me “Tankerbell” for nothing!

Hey, watch where you’re puttin’ that hook! They don’t call me “Tankerbell” for nothing!

Photo By bruce clarke

City Theatre

3835 Freeport Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95822

(916) 558-2228

Rated 4.0

Local audiences tasted British panto some years ago when the Sacramento Theater Company struck holiday-season box-office gold with Cinderella, a show developed at the Shakespeare Santa Cruz festival, with songs by River City’s own Gregg Coffin. Last year, City Theatre decided to give the genre a try as well, with an original adaptation of Snow White that used the genre’s basic tropes. And now City Theatre is back with a kinetic, chaotic, everything-including-the-kitchen-sink production of Peter Pan in the panto style.

For readers just tuning in on this topic, when we say “panto,” we do not mean silent “pantomime” in the style of the late Marcel Marceau. In British panto, the actors talk up a blue streak, delivering a rat-a-tat of corny jokes. British panto is more akin to the Italian commedia dell’arte, with certain stock characters; for example, a burly guy in over-the-top drag who plays a wicked stepmother (or some other scheming, dominating female of a certain age); a sort-of narrator named Buttons (who usually tosses handfuls of candy into the audience, to the delight of kids); a “horse” or other animal (played by one or two actors in a suitably absurd, colorful costume) who prances and dances while the band plays; and a few characters out of a familiar fairy tale or children’s story (the plot of which is naturally derailed for comic effect). There are pratfalls and physical humor for the youngsters, sexual double-entendres for the adults, and topical references to politics, pop culture, local landmarks and more.

When the formula is applied successfully, this kind of show can be fast, frothy fun. City Theatre’s Peter Pan works the genre pretty well (though not always consistently), with a rampaging cast of 30, who are kept in constant motion by director Luther Hanson. The performers range from high-school kids and college students to professional actors (as well as three musicians, whose contributions are critical to the show’s success).

Doug Lawson, whose local credits as teacher and professional actor stretch back several decades, has a field day playing Tankerbell. He wears falsies the size of oil tankers, creating a vast, projecting bosom that is the polar opposite of the willowy Tinker Bell in more conventional productions of Peter Pan. Tankerbell is terribly concerned that cute young Wendy is going to steal her beloved Peter, leading to ridiculous situations involving jealousy.

Christine Nicholson, who wrote this wacky adaptation, retains the story’s pirates (including Captain Hook, well-played by Nick Gailbreath) and Lost Boys (one is transformed into a rapping Rastafarian). Nicholson also pulls in five “Spice Girls,” who break out into a dance version of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” Songs by the likes of the Beatles, Kraftwerk and more are likewise hijacked, as the story morphs into a variety show: Pantoland’s Got Talent.

Some jokes misfire—a few because they aren’t delivered cleanly (the level of acting experience here is variable), others because they sail over the heads of most of the audience due to joke overload. This is a show that hurls everything at the wall to see what sticks. Overall, more than enough of these one-liners connect.

Costumer Nichol Sivell contributes some lovely work, including the dog Nana, the Panto Horse, and, of course, Tankerbell. The band, led by Ken Figeroid, and the roving spotlights—very effective in a chase scene—also add to the fun.