Lauren Tylor and Kenton Duty in A Cinderella Christmas, directed by Bonnie Lythgoe, at Pasadena Playhouse.
Lauren Taylor and Kenton Duty in A Cinderella Christmas, directed by Bonnie Lythgoe, at Pasadena Playhouse.
(© Philicia Endelman)

A Cinderella Christmas, the latest pantomime show at the Pasadena Playhouse, has an age limit. The children at the theater delighted in the sophomoric jokes, sing-alongs, and fourth-wall-breaking conversations with the audience. Though those elements can be a bit difficult for a sophisticated theatergoer, the evening does contain several sly comedians and talented singers, particularly Alex Newell, from TV's Glee, who has serious vocal pipes and brought down the house with two Whitney Houston renditions.

Panto, or pantomime, is a long-practiced children's art form that combines fairy tales with modern music and topical humor. Lythgoe Family Productions has performed panto shows in cities throughout the U.S., with five Christmas seasons at Pasadena Playhouse.

A Cinderella Christmas takes the classic story of the poor servant girl (Lauren Taylor) tortured by her wicked stepmother (Morgan Fairchild) and stepsisters (Ben Giroux and Josh Adamson) until a fairy godmother (Newell) grants her wish and transports her to the royal ball. She meets the prince (Kenton Duty) and sweeps him off his feet. A Christmas Cinderella differs by adding Buttons (Matthew Patrick Davis) a fellow servant with a major crush on Cinderella.

The script by Kris Lythgoe strings together juvenile humor and pop songs made popular by Meagan Trainor, Dolly Parton, and Roxette. The children in the audience are encouraged to cheer and boo at appropriate moments, which lends an interactivity that keeps the young ones occupied. Framing the Cinderella story as a lesson on bullying is timely, and Lythgoe adds another layer to Cinderella by making her thoughtlessly oblivious to how she takes advantage of her best friend Buttons. The addition of Buttons removes the angle that Cinderella has been completely isolated with no human being to love her or instill her with confidence. By having a sidekick, one who feeds her morale, it makes little sense that Cinderella hadn't exacted revenge on her stepmother and stepsisters or fled the house years ago.

The songs are a mixture of genres and time periods and are successfully woven into the plot, thanks to the talented singers and dancers who appear under the direction of Bonnie Lythgoe. Unfortunately, Lythgoe directs the show surprisingly unimaginatively for a show geared toward children.

Taylor has a fetching voice and a youthful elegance, while Duty is a bit bland as her suitor, but together their medley duet, "It Must Have Been Love/She Has a Way," is well sung. Giroux and Adamson, as the drag versions of the intimidating, ugly, and stupid stepsisters are hilarious even without any material from the script. While their jokes may fall flat on the page, the duo sells them regardless. Newell is delightful as the fairy and possesses a singing voice that blows everyone else out of the water. Though the character is a supporting one, having someone of that vocal magnitude and not utilizing it to its greatest potential was disappointing. It would have been wise of Lythgoe to have expanded Newell's song list.

Spencer Liff's choreography is lively, particularly in the group numbers like "24K Magic." Ian Wilson's sets are colorful and cartoonlike, particular appealing to the younger ones in the audience. Some of Florencia M. Carrizo's costumes are sublime, like Cinderella's rags that morph into the iconic blue dress when she spins, or the loud, playful costumes of the wicked stepsisters. While others, like the wholly unflattering two dresses given to Fairchild and the beggar woman's robe meant to unsuccessfully hide the fairy's glimmering dress, miss the mark.

While there is definitely an art to balancing entertainment can enchant children and still bring joy to adults, Lythgoe Family Productions instead chose the lazy approach of going for the easy laugh for the kids and leaving the adults out in the cold.