Theater Review: Panto Draws Laughs

Panto at Circle Theater Draws Laughs From Young, Adult Audience

by Peter Simek
December 12th, 2011 9:18am

Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks have built reputations of late by wowing the youngins with candy-colored spectacle while tickling adults with inside jokes and pop culture references. A much, much older iteration of this kind of humor is British Panto, which includes singing, horseplay, slapstick, dancing, and audience participation that draw on well-known folktales. Theaters typically perform these plays around Christmas for families, so it is entirely appropriate that Circle Theater offers Randy Sharp and Axis Company’s Seven in One Blow or The Brave Little Kid during the holidays, even though the subject matter does not directly relate.

Robin Armstrong (Becky’s New Car and Boeing-Boeing) directs her third show in Circle Theatre’s 30th Anniversary Season with a delicious sense for the form’s madcap spirit. The off-kilter fairytale story (an updated version of the German folktale The Valiant Little Tailor, collected by the Brothers Grimm) begins with Frankie and Mack (Eric Dobbins and Shane Strawbridge), a pair of Flatbush-sounding street folk who weave a fanciful tale to stave off their hunger and cold. A city child, The Kid (Mikaela Krantz), kills seven flies in one swat and celebrates the auspicious event with a wrestler-style belt that reads, “Seven in One Blow.” The fact that The Kid does not specify “flies” on the belt leads to hilarious assumptions by others.

The Kid journeys about Clare Floyd DeVries’ clever set of back alley bricks and graffiti meeting a variety of interesting characters. There is The Ogre (a towering Jim Johnson), The Witch (a striking Sherry Hopkins), December (a funky Michael James), a princess (Hannah McKinney), and a pea (Amy Elizabeth Jones) to name a few. Krantz (Talking Pictures and Jeeves in the Morning both at Stage West) as The Kid pulls plenty of big-eyed faces with a slightly curious, sing-songy stoner dialect, but she has an incredibly sweet singing voice and a lovable personality that are perfect for this show.

Kevin Scott Keating as The QK, a king with a hand puppet, provides some colorful wackiness. Jones’ A Pea is delightful and cute with her PSA type song about how we should all love peas. Brad Stephens (Much Ado About Nothing at Stolen Shakespeare Guild) as The Scarlet Pimpernel is “more than just an 18th century story.” McKinney as the “irritating” Princess Fartina plays a spoiled brat with wonderful, over-the-top skill.

Strawbridge is the real star of the show here, though. There is seemingly nothing this man cannot do, from ushering the audience into the theater in character, singing, performing sound effects, dancing, telling stories, connecting with the kids in the audience, to writing additional music and lyrics for the play. Bravo, sir!

Dance choreography by Sherry Hopkins is a hit, especially the Ogre’s “dance break” and the company finale. Armstrong’s campy costumes of tights, Chuck Taylors, and white Nehru jackets are awesome. Lighting and sound by John Leach and David H.M. Lambert add to the fairytale nature and ingenious effects of the show.

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or The BRAVE LITTLE KID runs through December 17, 2011 at Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth St., Fort Worth, TX 76102 in Sundance Square.  Call the box office at 817-877-3040 to reserve tickets or visit www.circletheatre.com.

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