note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Winter is cold, bleak and gloomy, so it’s great when it’s offset by a silly, family-friendly, audience participatory program. Imaginary Beasts’ “Winter Panto (pantomime) 2012: The Half-Baked and Hard to Swallow History of Humpty Dumpty, or One Egg is Enough,” appearing through Feb. 4 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box Theatre, provides precisely that, delighting youngsters and young-at-heart for more than 2-1/2 hours.
Even before the show begins, garbed in Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s colorful costumes, this 17-member nursery rhyme troupe greets and entertains guests. Children are encouraged to sit on floor mats, close to the action, where they can shout, reach out and touch the zany characters. During intermission and after the show, children in the audience loved playing games and talking with this enthusiastic cast.
As the show opens, narrators explain the panto is based on the British panto, in which they create a story based on specific elements: a heroic quest, “goodies,” or good people vs. “baddies,” or villains. It’s essential that the audience boo the baddies and cheer on the goodies, supplying nursery rhymes and other responses.
In Imaginary Beasts’ winter panto, there’s a parade of lovable, well-known characters and newly-created counterparts.
Mother Goose, a.k.a. The Good Fairy (Erin Brehm) and her sidekick, Sunnyside, the magical goose (Robin Eldridge) lead us to the land of Nursery Rhymes, where Old King Cole (Mikey DiLoreto) and his wife, the Queen of Hearts (Jenny Reagan) rule the land, that is suddenly overcast by a shadow - a huge egg teetering on the castle wall. If it falls, (and it does) a curse will prevail over the land, and the demon king, Old Icicle (artistic director-director Matthew Woods) will cover the land with perpetual winter. Icicle’s aide, Hench Yeti-in-training, Frostbite, (Amy Meyer) is too sunshiny to be a true villain, but punishes the audience with corny knock-knock jokes.
In the meantime, the king has other worries. Amidst this chaos, his jealous, spinster twin sister, Mother May I (Kiki Samko) is determined to usurp the throne, and resorts to committing evil magical stunts (boo-hiss-boo).
The wise three blind mice (Sam Eckmann, Jesse Wood, Mauro Canepa) advise the goodies that in order to reverse the curse, one of the king’s men, TomTom (Molly Kimmerling), must travel to the Land before Rhyme for some magical flower power - find a flower, the first bloom of spring. Because TomTom is in certain danger, an entourage composed of his mother, Old Mother Hubbard (Derek Fraser); his simpleton brother, Simon (Michael Underhill), who’s not completely simple but consults the Internet for information; Princess Mary Mary (Christina Malanga), whom TomTom loves; weebly, wobbly Humpty Dumpty (Jill Rogati); Humpty’s new love, Miss Muffett (Denise Drago); and Tray the Wonder Dog (Mauro Canepa) tackle the unknown together to restore peace and harmony. Rounding out the cast is Christopher Nourse.
Imaginary Beasts scrambles British pantomime, nursery rhymes and characters with modernity. Farcically weaving together childhood nostalgia with today’s events, such as a Betty Crocker baking contest, the narrator says, “The Land Before Rhyme is worse than parking on Tremont Street,”
BOX INFO: Two-act, 2-1/2 hour panto, presented by Imaginary Beasts, through Feb. 4 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box Theatre, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Showtimes are generally Wednesday-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, also at 2 p.m., excluding Jan. 28 and 29, with matinees at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15-$20; children under 10 years old, $10; discounts for seniors, students with valid IDs, and more. Call 617-933-8600 or visit www.bostontheatrescene.com.