The British tradition of the Christmas panto is alive and well in the DC region thanks to The British Players. Panto, short for pantomime, is a distinctly British form of theater in which well-known children’s stories are told onstage through a mixture of theater, dance, vaudeville, musical comedy, and familiar songs with lyrics rewritten to fit the story being told. The audience is encouraged to participate — loudly — by booing the villain (there is always a villain) and arguing with the “dame” (a female character always played by a man for comedic effect).
For nearly 60 years, The British Players has produced an annual panto during the Christmas season. The community theater ensemble first formed when some enthusiastic staff members at the British Embassy started performing pantos at the Embassy. The troupe is now an independent community nonprofit performing in Montgomery County, Maryland, at the Kensington Town Hall.
This year’s panto tells the familiar story of Rapunzel. Subtitled A Tangled Panto, the show follows Rapunzel, a princess who was taken from her parents by an evil witch and raised in a tower where she was never permitted to cut her hair.
But in true panto fashion, an array of new characters are added to the story. The script (credited to a company called Limelight Scripts) adds the characters of Willy Widdle (Mark Crimans) and Nurse Hetty Hairspray (Chuck Hoag), a man and “woman” who narrate much of the show through direct audience interaction and slapstick comedy. Crimans and Hoag are veterans of panto (both appeared in last year’s Wizard of Oz panto) and both possess entertaining comedy skills and delightful singing voices. Hoag particularly shows off his commanding tenor voice in the song “I Enjoy Being a Girl” from the musical Flower Drum Song. Hoag and Crimans’ interactions add humorous moments to the show including a comedic version of the popular Great British Bake Off television show in which they compete in baking the best cake.
The villain in this year’s panto is the witch, Mother Gothel. Played by Missi Tessier, another British Players panto veteran, Mother Gothel revels in her wicked ways, encouraging the audience to boo her loudly whenever she appears onstage. When Rapunzel escapes from her tower, Gothel hires a pair of bumbling fools (another standard element of panto) to help her find the missing girl. Sara Cath and Andrew Harasty play Ball and Socket, two fools whose names are as silly as they are. Their opening number, “A Couple of Swells” from the classic Fred Astaire and Judy Garland movie Easter Parade, was enjoyable but I would encourage the pair to play up the comedy even more.
Amanda Dullin-Jones gives a standout performance as Rapunzel. Dullin-Jones possesses a lovely singing voice that shone in the tower scene as she conveyed her loneliness in “Some Things Are Meant to Be.” Also delivering lovely vocal performances throughout the show were Doug Richesson as King Ralph and Lisa Singleton as Queen Rose.
Nicola Hoag’s direction added to fun ensemble numbers, but I would love to see even bigger emotions and slicker comedic timing from the entire cast during the comedy scenes.
The centerpiece of the simple set and costumes was, fittingly, Rapunzel’s hair. Set designer Mike Lewis rigged a two-piece set that created the illusion that people were able to climb up Rapunzel’s hair and into her window. Justine Crimans’ costumes featured typical fairy tale princess gowns and lovely outfits for the three fairies who assist Rapunzel in finding her happy ending. (Clare Palace, Tia Monet Flores, and Francis Hoag played the cleverly named Fairy Good, Fairy Well, and Fairy Nuff).
The show includes numerous ensemble numbers featuring simple but fun choreography by Shannon Cron. Group numbers include several songs with references to hair including the eponymous song from the musical Hair. One fun thing about pantos is that they offer ways for numerous ensemble members to get moments in the spotlight. Two young masked dancers (Tristian Singleton and George Hoag), for example, turned out a clever but brief dance to the song “I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me,” and another dancer (Molly Ross) executed a lovely ballet while the King and Queen sang about their daughter. An ensemble number featuring tap dancing was especially fun.
The British Players’ production of Rapunzel: A Tangled Panto features a group of enthusiastic community performers who are clearly having fun on stage. As we exited the theater, my young daughter turned to me and said, “Give it five stars, Mommy. Those jokes were really funny.”
Running Time: Two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Rapunzel: A Tangled Panto plays on weekends through January 7, 2023, presented by The British Players performing at the Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchel Street, Kensington, MD. Tickets ($15–$28) can be purchased at the door or online.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional.
Rapunzel: A Tangled Panto
by Limelight Scripts
Producer: Colleen Darling
Director: Nicola Hoag
Music Director: Chuck Hoag
Choreographer: Shannon Cron
Dance Captain: Molly Ross
Stage Manager: Matt Mills
Costume Designer: Justine Crimans
Set Designer: Mike Lewis
Lighting Designer: Steve Deming
Sound Designer: Sarah Katz
Projection Designer: Matt Mills
Props Designer: Guy Palace
Hair and Makeup Designer: Cathy Dunn
Rapunzel: Amanda Dullin-Jones
King Ralph: Doug Richesson
Queen Rose: Lisa Singleton
Nurse Hetty Hairspray: Chuck Hoag
Willy Widdle: Mark Crimans
Prince George: Kris Humphrey
Gothel: Missi Tessier
Ball: Sara Cath
Socket: Andrew Harasty
Fairy Good: Clare Palace
Fairy Well: Tia Monet Flores
Fairy Nuff: Francis Hoag
Sergeant Hawkeye: Colin Davies
Young Rapunzel: Molly Ross
Ensemble: Sonia Alam, Matt Craun, Penny Hannallah, George Hoag, Ellen Kaplan, Charlotte Leembruggen, Emilia O’Connor, Lauren Pacuit, Lily Pacuit, Tristian Singleton