Photo credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Photo credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

For parents fantasizing about introducing children to musical theater without breaking the bank, the husband and wife producing team of Kris and Becky Lythgoe, through their “Lythgoe Family Productions,” is working to make wishes come true with accessible, more affordable Broadway-style theater in Los Angeles and beyond.

Their latest, the “Princess and Pirates Sing-a-Long Concert,” is in a limited run at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City through August 10, 2014.

The couple is looking to bring Panto to the masses and has teamed up with the Pasadena Playhouse to do Christmas-themed shows for the next decade. But Becky Lythgoe asks, “Why not have Panto all year round?” So this summer, they’re hoping that young and old alike, will “unite” for the show.

Pantomime-Without the Mime

Although “Panto” (sounds like: PAN-toe), is another name for Pantomime in the United Kingdom, you will see no actors a la Marcel Marceau in white face make-up physically pushing on invisible glass windows.  And while Panto abroad can be bawdy, this Panto is family friendly.

Photo credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Photo credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

The format takes from traditions dating back more than 200 years and Commedia del Arte, and has become a popular British winter-time tradition. It combines familiar children’s stories (think Grimm Fairy Tales such as Snow White, Cinderella, and others such as Jack and the Beanstalk,  and Robin Hood) with some vaudeville style and intersperses contemporary music and local references (adults you too will be in on the joke) all while encouraging ample audience participation.  Becky Lythgoe explains that husband Kris re-writes scripts so the jokes, music and locale are all taken into consideration and remain timely and relevant to the targeted audience.

Songs from pop singers abound. During this performance, children chimed in to sing Pharrell Williams, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and One Direction. But Michael Buble and the Village People, also made for appropriate fare, and allowed for participation from those who may not be up on the very latest pop songs.

If you don’t know the words, never fear, as a karaoke-style screens appearing on both sides of the stage will allow you to impress the kids as you can, at the very least, mouth the words as if you know the song by heart.

This-Gen Idol

If the name Lythgoe seems familiar, it may be because Kris is the son of “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance” producer, NigelLythgoe.  In addition to staging the production, both Kris and Becky  could be found among the masses prior to the show selling rings, wands and other glow-in-the dark merchandise to “help enhance the interactive experience.” (Self-acknowledging, a funny marketing joke was heard in the show to follow.)  And they know their audience. Before even entering the theater, children could have their picture taken in front of a fairy-tale background with a princess. Once inside, there was face painting, picture drawing and decorating,  a free raffle and more.

A “golden” ticket can be purchased for an extra fee, allowing your child to be called to the stage to interact with members of the cast as well as a stage hand (all you see is the hand), as well as receive a kid-friendly swag bag.

The Cast of Characters

Photo credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Photo credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Members of the cast have done stints on shows including “Glee”, “So You Think You Can Dance” and various Broadway productions including “Wicked”, “Hairspray” and “Next to Normal”.

The show is directed and choreographed by “So You Think You Can Dance’s” Spencer Liff and Michael Orland of “American Idol” is musical supervisor. We attended the show as guests of LA Times Arts and Culture Writer, Deborah Vankin.

The cast brings both voice and dance talents to the simple, yet effective stage, where they concentrate on getting the audience to yell out suggestions, cheer on the heroes, hiss and boo at the villains, sing with the cast, and laugh at the jokes.

Muddles, played by Jonathan Meza, is the show “jester”, its narrator and the Greek chorus all rolled up into one.  Constantly returning to the audience for suggestions, Meza provides plenty of puns,  some strong physical comedy (watch out for some surprises if you’re in the first few rows), and interaction with the actors—many of whom take on multiple roles and heroically fast costume changes—such as Lindsay Pearce (Snow White/Maid Marian), Molly McCook (Cinderella/Aurora/Wendy) and David F.M. Vaughn (Captain Hook/The Sheriff).

The day we attended, there was no telling what would happen,  for example, whether the kids would allow or not allow “true love’s kiss” between prince and princess, or whether they’d prefer that Muddles have his moment in the limelight and a chaste peck on the cheek from a princess.

If you miss the limited run, you can still have your run at the Panto experience at one of their upcoming shows at the Pasadena Playhouse this winter.