By Daniel Skora
It’s the holiday season, and if you’re thinking the time might be ripe for the second annual Christmas Panto at Theatre Nova, you’d be right. Not to scare away the non-literate, but this year’s assemblage of skits, sketches, and general all-‘round mayhem draws its inspiration from “Nussknaker und Mausekonig”, which is German for “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. It’s the original nutcracker story by E.T.A. Hoffman, and composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky liked it so much that he wrote music for a ballet that was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in1892.
“The Nutcracker” ballet continues to be performed year after year as part of the holiday celebrations of many Americans. One of the scenes in the ballet takes place in The Land of Sweets, which has been ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in the absence of the Prince, who had been transformed into a nutcracker. Hence Theatre Nova’s name for their show, “Sugar Plum Panto”. Wikipedia lists the following characteristics of a panto: music, songs, comedy, satire, parody, dancing, storytelling, gender-crossing actors, sing-a-longs, and audience participation. Theatre Nova’s “Sugar Plum Panto” has them all and more.
Theatre Nova’s panto springs to life through the considerable talents of Dan Morrison, Sarah Briggs and Sonja Marquis. Briggs plays Clara, who has a dream where she becomes the young heroine of “The Nutcracker”. Marquis is the Mouse King, not especially villainous but out to put an end to a happy Christmas Eve nonetheless. Morrison plays both the Nutcracker Prince and Frankenstein…yes, that Frankenstein, the one with the deeply hooded eyes and the electrodes sticking out of his neck. Frankie has grown a bit tired of scaring the bejabbers out of people on Halloween, and makes his appearance here because he thinks that by absorbing some good old fashioned Christmas spirit, he might become more amenable to others.
There’s a story to this panto that parallels “The Nutcracker”, and several contemporary social issues thrown in to keep the show relevant, but all the skits and sketches have a life of their own. Clara’s wish list includes a SuperSonicMegaBlaster or some-such named non-PC kids toy. The song parodies are divine, the best being a reworking of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” as performed in “Young Frankenstein”, with new lyrics and Morrison growling his part like he’s got a mouthful of fruitcake.
There’s an eventual fight to the finish between the Nutcracker Prince and King Mouse, but thanks to their Nerf swords (Non-Expandable Recreational Foam), no one really gets hurt. The action is fast and furious, and Morrison and Marquis work up quite a sweat, probably dropping a couple of pounds per show.
On a measurement scale, the comedy of “Sugar Plum Panto” ranges from the totally silly to the positively hilarious. It’s got something for everyone, candy for the kids and some subtle adult-type humor for the parents and grandparents. See it if you dare, see it if you must, but do see it for a well-intentioned spoof of some holiday traditions we’ve grown to love.
Oh, and the show features a (low-keyed) magician, “Boyer the Magic Guy”, in what can best be described as an interlude to the ninety-minute intermissionless show. In the best of show-business traditions, he continued with his act even after one of his big tricks went bad.
“Sugar Plum Panto” is a group effort, and writing and creative credits go to the Theatre Nova Ensemble. Carla Milarch serves as director and sound designer. Music composer and director is R. MacKenzie Lewis. Set and lighting are by Daniel C. Walker, costumes by Becky Fox.
“Sugar Plum Panto” runs through December 23rd. Tickets are pay-what-you-can with a suggested donation of $20. They are available by calling 734.635-8450. Theatre Nova is located at 416 W. Huron Street, tucked away in the Yellow Barn, a stone’s throw off the road in downtown Ann Arbor.