We are much in need of silliness, that realm kids know so well, that care-free suspension of standards for the sake of present laughter. Silliness can make you laugh very hard, which can be cleansing, releasing. Do we need both right now!
Go, therefore, to see Aladdin – A Musical Panto, through Jan. 7 at People's Light in Malvern.
Associated with the holiday season, panto (short for "pantomime") is an ancient English genre of musical comedy combining song, dance, cross-dressing, satire, outlandish costumes, and wacky retellings of fairy tales and old stories. Sung and danced with comic abandon, infectious and smile-inducing, Aladdin, the theater's 14th annual panto, is a diverse, pop-cult-wise show for everyone, especially the video gamers out there.
Aladdin (fresh-faced Camilo Estrada) is creating a new game with his pals, Morris the Mantis (a Spanish-speaking insect played by Zach Aguilar) and Manny the Monkey (the goofy Peter Danelski). The Sultan of Paoli-stan (Kim Carson, clueless, hilarious), meantime, wants to marry off his daughter, Princess Mai Tai (winning, sparkly Samantha Funk), to his vizier, named simply Fu (comic master Christopher Patrick Mullen), who seeks world domination. Fu: "My name is Fu! Can you say that?" Audience: "Fu!" Fu: "That's F! U!" Audience: "F! U!" Mark Lazar, who has been part of every People's Light panto, is Sheherazade and Widow Twankey.
Actors bolt into the audience to haul viewers on stage, ask questions, or throw candy. In the biggest single set piece, Aladdin decides he'll win Mai Tai's heart by making her a spaghetti dinner. With his mom's Swedish pasta-maker, Aladdin and pals generate pasta all over the place. With big yellow swim noodles, the boys create a football goalpost. Manny the Monkey then throws "meatballs" into the crowd, who throw them through the goalposts to make field goals. Then the boys jam spaghetti wigs on their heads and do a rendition of Beyoncé's "All the Single Ladies."
It's like that. Fu has three evil Interns, all dressed in suits, all incompetent, all unpaid. If you rub the Ring, you get a Genius (Tom Teti); rub the lamp, and you get Frederick the Vociferous, the Genie (big, crazy, wondrous Nichalas L. Parker), who can grant you any wish but can't make anyone fall in love. In a pretty great video sequence, Aladdin and Princess Mai Tai and the evil Fu chase one another through a video-game universe titled FuTube.
Pete Pryor and Samantha Reading wrote the zingy book, and Michael Ogborn the songs, a gallimaufry of pop references, "The Imperial March" from Star Wars, "You Can Dance If You Want To," "Magic Carpet Ride" (well, yes), "Posthumus Zone," a mad medley of "You Can't Hurry Love," "I Will Follow Him," "Love Stinks," and other amatory chansons, and even "Despacito," sung by Aladdin during a Romeo-and-Juliet-balcony-scene send-up.
"It's time to end this cycle of hatred and evil and love one another!" we're told. It sure is. Here's to the frenetic, madcap silliness of Aladdin. If panto can't save us, nothing can.