Houston’s original British Panto celebrates 10 years at Stages Repertory Theatre, and trust me, there is a lot to celebrate. With superlative singing, physical comedy that really is funny, and an all-star cast of Houston favorites plus stellar new talent, this is one holiday show that I can honestly say appeals to all ages and won’t disappoint. In fact, I was laughing almost the whole time along with all the the people around me—young or young at heart. I usually take copious notes when I review, but I didn’t even click my pen—I was too busy being entertained. Dare I say it? This show is fun!
Let’s start with the set, which is a model of efficiency and doesn’t require a bunch of fussy changes between scenes. You have a set of steps that serves perfectly well for scrubbing by Cinderella or an entrance fit for a king. Score: 10.
Same for the tunes, with music and lyrics by Greg Coffin, which are witty, original, or moving depending on the moment, and Stages even gives you a live band, directed by Steven Jones. Score: 10.
Then thanks to Tiffani Fuller you have wonderful costumes for fairy godmothers, a Texas-twangy queen, and Regan and Goneril, two of the ugliest stepsisters you will ever see. In particular, I loved the dress patterned with fidget spinners, those stress thingies for ADD kids that are all the rage, as well as the great sexy black number for the wicked stepmother, Houston gem Holland Vavra, who plays Mrs. Baden-Rotten (I know, funny!). Her performance of “There’s Always Another One in the Wings” is, well, another 10.
British Panto—short for pantomime—is a holiday family tradition that requires interaction from the audience, which means actors had the children in the audience all amped up and eating from their hands. This in itself is really saying something, given that civilization is crumbling and the chances of the audience blowing it when asked to interact are alarmingly high; people can’t even converse or follow directions in the age of smartphones and those aforementioned fidget spinners. Not so here, where everyone was booing the villainesses and cheering on the Prince and Cinderella and Buttons the nice guy. Score: 10.
In addition to Houston acting super-talents, Stages has a unique relationship with Sam Houston State University—a program that in the past included such stellar actors such as Chelsea Ryan McCurdy and Mark Ivy. Lucky us: We were introduced to the fabulous voices of Cinderella (Julianne McBride) and Prince Charming (Zach Reeves), who are likely only sophomores in college or something. Look out, world! They surprised me with singing that was much more than I expected, so they each get a 10 too.
Also great were the ugly stepsisters played by Aaron Ruiz and Tevyn Washington. I won’t spoil it, but do not miss their entrance (or that scene getting ready for the glass slipper).
Cleverly directed by veteran actor and director Josh Morrison, Panto Cinderella camps up a beloved fairy tale in the most entertaining way. A wonderful ensemble cast works in perfect synchronicity for a show that never lags and delivers in every category. If you need a little holiday cheer right this very minute, get thee to Panto Cinderella—and bring everyone in your family. Unless they are Ebenezer Scrooge, everyone will leave with a higher happiness quotient—which for comic holiday productions is the most important score of all.
Thru Dec. 31. Tickets from $25. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy. 713-527-0123. More info and tickets at stagestheatre.com.