The North Carolina Theatre‘s presentation of the Lythgoe Family Panto, Aladdin and His Winter Wish, which runs through Sunday, Dec. 2nd, at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, has something for everyone. Even though the fairy tale is aimed at children, it has the ability to touch the hearts and tickle the funny bones of people of all ages.
Panto is a British art form introduced in 1717 as a performance of a fairy tale using song, dance, and comedy — particularly about current and local events. The Lythgoe Family has produced several different productions that have run in cities throughout the country. Raleigh is fortunate to have this one.
Among the differences between the traditional story of Aladdin and this presentation is the use of popular songs to further the action. There is a wonderful mix of songs from different eras and genres. There were earlier tunes, such as Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy” and Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” There were a couple of more recent Bruno Mars’ tunes, “Billionaire” and “Treasure.” The song “Jai Ho” from the closing credits of the film Slumdog Millionaire was somehow worked in as well.
The story of Aladdin should be familiar, but that does not prevent the audience from experiencing delightful surprises at every turn. The audience is instructed from the beginning to participate in the show be cheering for the heroes and booing and hissing the villains. The adults in the crowd gleefully joined the children in this task. The opening number is a spirited dance to “Jai Ho,” with an incredibly talented group of young dancers in beautifully colorful costumes flying about the stage. The sets and the technical manipulation of them was first rate.
The comedy is unrelenting. Particularly hilarious were Jonathan Meza as Aladdin’s ne’er-do-well brother Wishee-Washee; Jeff Sumner (in spectacular drag) as Aladdin’s mother, Widow Twankey; and especially Josh Adamson as the effete and scenery-chewing bad guy, Abanaza. Many of the jokes had a distinct Triangle flavor, poking fun at local politics, geography, and culture.
The leads were fine as well. Jason Gotay played Aladdin as a strong and likable hero. His powerful voice was truly one of the show’s highlights. Nia Sioux, as the Princess, was enjoyable, although her voice was sometimes obscured when singing a duet or over instrumentation. This may have also been a sound issue.
Two of the remaining supporting parts held my interest for different reasons. Ty Taylor, as the Genie, sang incredibly well and moved about the stage, well, like a Genie. I wish he had a larger part. The Sultan was a particular treat for me. He was beautifully performed by Barry Pearl. True theater aficionados will remember Pearl as Doody, one of the T-Birds supporting John Travolta in the film version of Grease. Of course, the style of Panto allowed for several lines that referenced his history in that role.
One oddity, which I’m not sure will continue with the run of the show, was a live performance before the start of Act II by local celebrities, the Holderness Family of YouTube fame, performing a song parody about Raleigh.
Do not be scared off by this show being geared toward children. I sat surrounded by adults and they all laughed throughout. Don’t be put off by the British Panto style. This show was very much contemporary Raleigh-themed. Don’t be put off by a holiday theme. It is a small, but very enjoyable and well-integrated part of the story. I mention these things as they were my concerns coming in to the show. I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong on all counts. Please take your family to see this gem.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 26th Raleigh, NC WRDU: Classic Rock 100.7 FM interview with writer/producer Kris Lythgoe, conducted by Carson: https://wrdu.iheart.com/featured/behind-the-curtain/content/2018-11-26-aladdin-and-his-winter-wish/; Nov. 20th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Ed Condran: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article221908150.html; Nov. 17th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Interview with writer/producer Kris Lythgoe, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interview-Producer-Kris-Lythgoe-Brushes-Up-on-His-Southern-Colloquialisms-for-ALADDIN-AND-HIS-WINTER-WISH-20181117 and Nov. 5th BWW Interview with actor Jason Gotay, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interview-Jason-Gotay-Talks-ALADDIN-AND-HIS-WINTER-WISH-Panto-Tradition-and-Returning-to-the-North-Carolina-Theatre-Stage-20181105.
The North Carolina Theatre presents ALADDIN AND HIS WINTER WISH, a Lythgoe Family Panto starring Jason Gotay as Aladdin and Nia Sioux as the Princess, at 7 p.m. Nov. 30, 11 a.m. and 3 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, and 12 and 4 p.m. Dec. 2 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $25 and up.
BOX OFFICE: Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369155/2521777.
SHOW: https://nctheatre.com/shows/aladdin-winter-wish, https://www.facebook.com/events/264386640817416/, and https://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/events/aladdin-and-his-winter-wish-north-carolina-theatre.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=194I2ED1gpA.
NCT NEWS RELEASES: https://nctheatre.com/blog/jason-gotay-lead-nc-theatre%E2%80%99s-lythgoe-family-production-aladdin-and-his-winter-wish and https://nctheatre.com/blog/nc-theatre-present-lythgoe-family-production-aladdin-and-his-winter-wish-starring-nia-sioux.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1st, performance.
Aladdin (Middle Eastern fairytale): https://www.britannica.com/topic/Aladdin-fictional-hero (Encyclopædia Britannica) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aladdin (Wikipedia).
Aladdin and His Winter Wish (2013 Pasadena Playhouse American Panto): https://americanpanto.com/aladdin (official web page).
Robert O’Connell is new to the Triangle, but not to the stage. As a playwright, he has had dozens of productions and awards throughout the world. He has an MS degree in Management Systems Analysis. A lifelong educator, O’Connell has also published three novels at http://www.flashmobthenovel.com/ and two humor anthologies from his blog, https://thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com/. He and his wife have settled in Cary, NC. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.