Beginning December 12th, Pasadena Playhouse will transform its courtyard into a Winter Wonderland as families gather to celebrate the joy of the holidays. Family members from 1 to 91 will then experience A SNOW WHITE CHRISTMAS, a traditional British Panto produced by Lythgoe Family Productions that debuts this month at The Playhouse. Filled with magic, comedy, music and audience participation, it's the kind of show that director Bonnie Lythgoe and her son, Kris (who wrote the show), grew up with in England. Putting up a show at any time of the year is hectic but it can be especially crazy with the extra demands December brings. Still, between rehearsals, production meetings, costume calls, and even picking cast members up at the airport, Bonnie and Kris were able to take time to tell us about their new production.
Thank you both for allowing us to see into your magical world today. Let's start with the basics. What is a panto and how is it different from what we know as musical theatre?
Bonnie: A panto is a fairy story; the kind we all read when we are kids and now, when we are grown up, it's our fairy stories coming to life. A musical is a different kind of story, like LES MISERABLES, which isn't quite for children. It's more intense. A panto is much more lighthearted and is really more of a family event. And the very big difference is that in musicals you go in and you sit and you watch the musical. In a panto we involve the audience in the show.
In what way do you involve them?
Bonnie: For example, the first thing that happens in A SNOW WHITE CHRISTMAS is that Muggles, (he's a kind of comedy character), will come out and look at the kids and say, "Hi gang, do you want to be on my team?" and they'll answer and he'll say, "I didn't hear you." All of a sudden the kids will chime in louder and say, yes we do! It's like that all the way through the show. We get them to do things like boo the wicked queen, which they would never do in a musical. Without them we can't do panto.
It's truly what we think of as an interactive experience then.
Bonnie: Absolutely. We also use today's music; songs that are current, like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, so the kids can sing along. At the end we have a song sheet and we introduce the kids to the characters. Muggles will come out and ask them if they had a good time? Did mummy and daddy come with you? Who did you like the best? We actually make sure that the children feel really part of the whole show.
It sounds like great fun.
Bonnie: Yes, in the UK it's tradition as we go into the Christmas holiday time that you go to the panto, and every show in the UK is nearly sold out. It's something we all go to do with our families and then after that we have Christmas and celebrate our holiday. I used to drag my two sons with me while I was working and I'd sit them in the orchestra pit and then I'd go and choreograph or direct a show and they grew up to love it.
Kris, as one of those kids in the orchestra pit, what was it like for you being part of it as a child?
Kris: It was wonderful growing up around the theatre. My father actually wrote pantos as a hobby so it was very much a whole family involvement. My dad would write them and my mum would direct them. I would sit in the meetings and experience it from my dad's point of view; then I would sit in the theatre every day either in the orchestra pit playing with the pianist or with the musical director, and watch it all come to life. It was unbelievable for me.
At what point did you decide to begin writing your own pantos?
Kris: I think it was when my son, George, was born. He was born five years ago and we've been in Los Angeles for 8 years now. I love everything about LA and Pasadena but, for me, after I finished taking my son to places like the Petersen Museum and Travel Town and Kidspace Children's Museum, there wasn't something that the family could go and enjoy in the way of theatre. And I missed it. I always had a passion inside me to write but I didn't know where that passion would take me. So the inspiration definitely came from my son.