Reviewing the Panto Loons “Robin Hood: Fifty Shades of Green” at the Ghent (NY) Playhouse
by Gail Burns
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After this past presidential election cycle, it is only natural that the Panto Loons would select Robin Hood – whose hero robs from the 1% to give to the 99% – as the story they would send up this holiday season. And considering that the Loons start writing in July and the show goes up a scant three weeks after election day, they must be very clever indeed to get the political humor just right (or in this case just left) so that the show rings true whatever the outcome.
(Quick Introduction for Panto Virgins: The British Pantomime or Panto tradition has nothing to do with what Americans know as Pantomime or Mime. There is a LOT of talking and singing and no one wears white-face or a beret. The best analogy for Baby-Boomers is to imagine the Fractured Fairy Tales segment from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show live on stage, set to music, with everyone in drag. There is a lot of topical political and cultural humor, and the songs are all new lyrics set to old standards. Its all very, very silly.)While I recognized, happily, several jokes from their 2004 staging of this same story – the female anthropologist joke and the epithet “You flatuent anchovy!” in particular – this is an all new 2012 version, retaining only Head Loon Judy Staber’s gently sloshed performance as Friar Tuck and Johnna Murray’s perfect turn as Maid Marion, a young woman with the riches and womanly virtues of a true princess, and the speech impediment of Elmer Fudd. Her love for Wobin, er, Robin Hood (Cathy Lee-Visscher) is as unswerving as her hate for Sheriff Cockalorum of Nottingham (Sally McCarthy), whom his greedy Mother Dona Trumpet (director Tom Detwiler) wants her to marry.
Murray is aided and abbeted by her obscenely pregnant Lady in Waiting, Maude Lynne (Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon), who is expecting the child of the ridiculously tall and muscle-bound Little John (Michael Meier). The Sheriff and his mother, and their henchman Baron Getrich of Newton (Matthew W. Coviello), are holding the ladies captive and the wedding is tomowwow, er, tomorrow. It’s Robin to the rescue – along with Little John, Much the Miller’s Son (Joanne Maurer), and Friar Tuck – in drag, of course, except for the good Friar. Meanwhile Alan A-Dale (musical director Paul Leyden) and a malodorous old monk who claims to be Warren LeBuffet (Paul Murphy) hold down the fort in Sherwood Forest.
Once the women are wescued, er rescued, the Sheriff plots his revenge which requires Robin Hood, Little John and Much to all wear disguises again, this time as high-powered executive types interviewing to be CEO of the kingdom, while Marion and Maude Lynne, dressed as monks by the good Friar, anxiously watch.
In the end good triumphs over evil and everyone runs riot through the theatre, which is how you can tell that the Panto is almost over.
The Panto Loons are developing into a stronger and stronger performing unit over the years. The addition a few years back of Schane-Lydon, who could not be more adorable in drag, and this year of Meier and Coviello has continued this trend, especially vocally. Now not only are the songs hilarious, but they sound great too. McCarthy, Lee-Visscher, and Murray make a wonderful Andrew Sisters-type close harmony trio, and Meier and Coviello bring strong male voices to the mix.
The only other Loons who also apppeared in the 2004 “Robin Hood” are McCarthy, who then played Alan A-Dale and here is tackling her first villianous role with a swagger and a sneer, and Detwiler, who once again directs and plays the Panto Dame. I loved the Donald Trump/Dona Trumpet gag, but I thought Detwiler’s “bad comb-over” could have been considerably more outrageous – lord knows The Donald’s is!
For a Panto there were a bunch of men NOT in drag on the stage this year. Coviello and Meier were playing it straight, while Leyden and Murphy were playing it gay. (Loved the Royal Proposal!) I see great Panto potential for Meier, who got a small drag moment during the rescue of the ladies. Coviello didn’t seem completely invested in the mayhem, but hopefully he will warm to the theme in future years.
This year even Maurer gets a solo number, which she pulls off with panache. But her real starring role is as costumer. Her creations are colorful, witty and hilarious as always. Detwiler looks particularly lovely in his gowns, and I loved the “wife-beater” business suit Meier wore at the end of the show.
The Panto sets are deceptively simple, but set and lighting designer Bill Camp gets to go all out this year with a nightmare dream sequence for Maid Marion that is out of this world. Detwiler gets special kudos for the clever staging here – watch closely and don’t blink or you’ll miss something wonderful.
This year I took a young woman who had a) never seen a Panto, and b) turned out to be a Republican, along with me, and she was not amused by the politiical humor in the show. I have warned in past years that the Loons’ humor leans heavily to the liberal left, so if you were a Romney supporter you may want to stay at home – or write your own right-wing Panto, for goodness sake. We do still, thankfully, have freedom of speech in this country and there’s no law against it.
The PantoLoons’ production of Robin Hood: Fifty Shades of Green opens on November 23 and plays through December 9 at the Ghent Playhouse, 6 Town Hall Place, Ghent, NY. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be a special added performance on Saturday, December 1 at 5 p.m. Tickets for the Panto are $18, $15 for Friends of Ghent Playhouse and $10 for children under twelve years. For reservations call 800-838-3006 or go to www.ghentplayhouse.org
NOTE: The performance on Saturday evening, December 8 is a benefit for the Child Advocacy Center of Hudson and tickets are available through them. Call 518-392-4709, NOT the theatre.