Holiday Panto Arrives in Pasadena

The Seven Dwarfs from “A Snow White Christmas.”

The Seven Dwarfs from “A Snow White Christmas.”

The tradition of British holiday Panto is hundreds of years old, yet the roots of Panto go further back to Ancient Greece where it was a popular form of entertainment performed by a group with both narrative and instrumental music. Romans became fans of Panto and the art form eventually made its way north to the UK. Curiously, Panto has never caught on in the US – but that’s all about to change if Kris Lythgoe has anything to say about it.

Growing up in London, the son of Nigel and Bonnie Lythgoe (creators/producers of American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance?), “going to a Panto was as common as putting up a Christmas tree,” he stated. But having moved to the US eight years ago, and now the father of a five-year-old son, he was looking for some of the traditions he enjoyed in his childhood and was surprised to find that no one presented Pantos during the holiday season.

From l, writer/producer Kris Lythgoe, director Bonnie Lythgoe, and producer Becky Baeling.

From l, writer/producer Kris Lythgoe, director Bonnie Lythgoe, and producer Becky Baeling.

So he created Lythgoe Family Productions (LFP) with his mother – who had directed numerous Pantos back in England – and two years ago their first production became a reality. But the Lythgoes really wanted to find a home where they could place some roots and begin to build their tradition of having a Panto show at Christmastime. When Sheldon Epps was approached by producer Becky Baeling about having The Pasadena Playhouse become that home, the timing just wasn’t right, but The Playhouse was also looking for a holiday show that it could produce, so there was some theatrical chemistry brewing.

Having seen A Snow White Christmas at the El Portal Theatre last December it became evident that the Lythgoe’s “Americanized” versions of Panto, filled with current popular music, Hollywood celebrities, and jokes tied to current events, could very well be a perfect fit for The Playhouse.

Fast forward a few months and sets are being loaded into The Playhouse. Stars Ariana Grande (Victorious) as Snow White, Charlene Tilton (Dallas) as the Wicked Queen, and Curt Hansen (Broadway’s Next to Normal and Hairspray) as Prince Harry, along with an ensemble of So You Think You Can Dance? dancers are hard at work in the rehearsal room as A Snow White Christmas is about to debut as the first Panto at The Playhouse production.

Neil Patrick Harris is also getting in on the fun as the Magic Mirror. “This is kind of like The Rocky Horror Show for ten-year-olds,” Harris said. “Cool music, with a good band, it’s live, and you can shout at the stage and they’ll turn and talk back to you.”

A Snow White Christmas performs Dec. 12—30 at The Pasadena Playhouse. For tickets and information visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org or call (626) 356-7529.