Webster’s defines “pantomime” as: “a dramatic entertainment, originating in Roman mime, in which performers express meaning through gestures accompanied by music.” Imagine actors in white gloves emoting silently about a mostly-darkened stage. Very hoity-toity and arch. However, drop down one category and see the dictionary definition of pantomime as understood by a British audience. “a theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, that involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.”
Bingo! That’s the one that audiences get to see in Centerstage Theatre’s December production of “Rapunzel.” Called “panto” in the industry, Centerstage’s annual ripped-from-the-fairy tale show is actors and actresses having a delightful time and inviting the audience along for the ride. The jokes are sharp (some are groan-worthy, but that’s part of the fun) and frequent. The acting is excellent, and the production values are spot-on. It’s just what our nation needs in these troubled times, and makes Centerstage’s continued survival as a thriving member of the South Sound community essential.
Almost everyone knows Rapunzel as the girl with the hair up in the tower. To the uninitiated she is a blonde, but only Centerstage patrons learn that her hair is actually a sort of dark chartreuse. We will let you learn why from the show. Playing the lady with the locks is Jessie Selleck, making her Centerstage debut in this show. Ms. Selleck knows her way around a fairy tale, having spent time with Missoula Children’s Theater. She also knows her way around a song, easily carrying the title of show’s best singer. Her comic timing was among the best, and she is a worthy Rapunzel, indeed.
Rapunzel’s arch-enemy (arch-enemy is a superhero thing now, but it came from fairy tales) is the delightfully wicked Gothel. Prowling the stage like a feline, Deanna Martinez’ Gothel oozes venom and spite. If she was Catwoman she would have been Eartha Kitt, the oozing-est Catwoman ever. Gothel stops the show in Act Two with a song, as the crowd, conditioned to boo and hiss Gothel, broke into spontaneous applause. Ms. Martinez’ interaction with children in the audience adds to the fun that is such a part of this show.
There is no such thing as over-the-top in a show like this, and no one on stage knows that better than Brad Cerenzia in the role of Dame Fanny Smalls. Whether Dame Fanny was flirting with a toothsome lad in the fifth row or making the hanging of the laundry harder than it needed to be, she was the funniest part of a very funny show. The audience’s eyes go to Mr. Cerenzia’s Dame, or perhaps to the Dame’s expertly painted-on with a roller bright eye shadow. Either way, no one in the house was having a better time inhabiting his role that Mr. Cerenzia, and no one had more to do with the good time in Rapunzel.
John Kelleher splits his time between acting and directing, the latter being his forte for Tacoma Family Theater. He’s a fine director, but shouldn’t ever let his acting skills grow stale. His King Bertie was excellent in this show. The King may not be the ripest monarch in the family tree, but Mr. Kelleher’s reaction shots are priceless.
Joshua Jerard made South Sound audiences sit up and take notice earlier this fall in Centerstage’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) on this stage. His impressive run in this building continues in Rapunzel.
The pairing of Michelle Abad and Jenna McRill as Fairy Nuff and Fairy Good respectively was a great move by Director Taylor Davis. They are a well-oiled machine, insofar as anything is truly well-oiled in a romp such as this. It’s interesting to note that both fairies played the same role in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” earlier in their acting career. Ms. Abad is a gifted actress and Ms. McRill is a critical favorite in the South Sound since she began her time on stage.
And then there is Leila Neidlinger as the Fairy Queen. This about Miss Neidlinger for Meet Me in St. Louis. “If you aren’t in love with Leila by the end of the show you need to be checked for a soul.” The exact same sentiments apply here. She’s nine going on Meryl Streep. Watch her when the action focuses elsewhere. You’ll see tiny nuances in her performance that will be overlooked by old actors of 20, or so. After the show, one attendee described her as a “a treasure.” South Sound theater should bubble-wrap this one, because we will one day say “We knew her when.”
Deborah L. Armstrong is the musical director and keyboardist for Rapunzel. Her contribution to the success of this show is great. The cast is lucky to have here keyboard artistry to work with throughout the run.
Rapunzel is a show worth seeing at a theater worth supporting, so everyone who cares about theater, Christmas, puppies, or virgin snow on a crisp winter’s night should make plans to see it. It is a hoot, at a time when hoots are more valuable than egg nog. Buy your tickets today. Dame Fanny might just vamp you if you don’t. You don’t need that in your Christmas stocking.
Rapunzel, by Vince Brady, Centerstage Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Rd, Federal Way, 98023. Fri-Sat 7 pm, Sun 2 pm though Dec. 23. Tickets: app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=91465 Info: centerstagetheatre.com, or 253-661-1444.