(HADDON TOWNSHIP, NJ) -- This Christmas, The Ritz Theatre Company presents the world premiere production of The Absolute Fantastical Adventures of Cindy Ella and the Once and Future Golden Christmas Goose in the Joyous Years That Followed the Never-Ending Plague: A Short Panto (whew!), a fast-paced and fun-filled musical romp inspired by Great Britain's beloved theatrical tradition of the holiday pantomime. The show runs at The Ritz from December 3rd through December 19th.
"Christmas in Great Britain is one of the most wonderful spectacles to ever experience," says Producing Artistic Director Bruce A. Curless. "The streets are illuminated, Santa is making his rounds visiting children in town squares, and markets are springing up selling handmade wares and mulled wine. Another tradition that is prominent this time of year across the pond is going out to see a joyous Christmas pantomime, and, keeping with tradition, our original holiday panto here will be the perfect outing for the entire family. It's all in the title!"
Christmas pantomimes are embedded in British culture and are considered a holiday "must" for many British families. Perhaps best categorized for American audiences as big, boisterous, enjoyable musical comedy theatre productions, the British pantomime genre takes famous children's fairytales like Cinderella and Snow White and turns them into shows full of holiday frolics and shenanigans. Although the stories may be classics, the jokes are always contemporary so that they are understood by the modern audience. There are also plenty of innuendos that make the adults giggle, and audience participation regardless of age is greatly encouraged. All of these fun-loving ingredients are what initially attracted Mr. Curless to this unique theatrical form, to the point where he was inspired to write his own holiday panto over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The seed for this panto was planted some time ago, but it was during the pandemic when the idea really started to take shape. I began with an idea and started writing. I write in a stream-of-consciousness vein and very often need to go back to fix things or review what I have written. I wrote my first draft and used parodies for the songs. I have no talent for music, but had fun with the lyrics. I then thought I could use an original song or two and reached out to [local music composer and lyricist] Brian Bacon to see if he had any interest. He was interested, but only if we went all-in with the original tunes. And so it began."
Working by day as the Director of Choral Activities at Cinnaminson High School, Mr. Bacon prolifically moonlights as a Music and Vocal Director for various school, college, and community theaters in the South Jersey area. Past credits at The Ritz include serving as Music Director for such popular shows as Spamalot, The Wild Party, Rent, Beauty and the Beast, and Big Fish. He has also composed original music for several children's productions at the Garden State Discovery Museum in Cherry Hill as well as for the 2016 holiday show at the Broadway Theatre of Pitman. Thus, when Mr. Curless first approached him about crafting the music and lyrics for this madcap panto show, Mr. Bacon jumped at the opportunity.
"I have worked with Bruce for over ten years now on various projects, shows, and theatrical ventures, and I am so thankful he asked me to be a part of this wonderful project. I had never seen a holiday panto before, but I quickly fell in love with the genre's quirky archetypes and humorous traditions and am excited to bring it all to South Jersey!"
Convening weekly over Facetime and Zoom during the woes and throes of the pandemic, Mr. Curless and Mr. Bacon refused to allow shelter-in-place restrictions to hinder the overall development of the piece. Together, they tackled every facet of the creative process, breathing comedic life into their charming, charismatic character creations, dreaming up various plot points and story beats and, of course, discussing all the original music. Gradually, the shape of the musical began to take form, and the show is now ready to take its final leap from the page to the stage.
"This project has taken a lot of time and effort, and it was a great use of time when many of us were quarantined and stuck at home for so long," says Mr. Bacon. "I loved getting to know the characters and fleshing out the story to be as exciting, and fun, as possible. For many in South Jersey, this will be their first taste of a British holiday panto show, and I can't wait to see how they react. Perhaps it will even become a new tradition!"
All told, like its British forebears, this original panto production sets out to be as magical and mirthful as possible, a true holiday treat for audiences of all ages, with hilarity and hijinks aplenty from start to finish. The production features Danielle Defassio as Cindy Ella, Zachary Moore as Archie, Ernie Jewell as The King, Glen Funkhouser as The Chef, Matthew Weil as Madame, Krysten Cummings as Barsuoola, Lindsey Krier as Dulsebraya, and Robert Repici as The Conductor. All are ready—and quite raring—to bring this brand-new holiday panto to full-fledged musical life.
"Why share this work with our audiences? It's pretty simple, really," concludes Mr. Curless. "Brian and I had so much fun working on this piece and, quite honestly, it got me through the pandemic! I thought it would just be wonderful if we could provide the same kind of escape for our audiences, an escape from the worries of today and the opportunity to laugh and take a moment or two for our souls to become recharged and ready to carry on! We're beyond excited to share our musical baby with the world!"
Tickets: General Admission — $30; Artist/Student Rush — $15 **Please be advised that, due to COVID-19, audience members over the age of 12 will be required to show proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 when entering The Ritz Theatre. Exceptions will be made for people with a medical or religious exemption to vaccination. These guests must show proof of a negative PCR test taken within 36 hours of the performance time or a negative antigen test taken within 6 hours of the performance time. Children under the age of 12 will be exempt from all aforementioned requirements. All guests, regardless of age or vaccination status, will be required to wear masks while inside the theatre building.**
The cast includes: Danielle Defassio as Cindy Ella; Zachary Moore as Archie; Ernie Jewell as The King; Glen Funkhouser as The Chef; Matthew Weil as Madame; Krysten Cummings as Barsuoola; and Lindsey Krier as Dulsebraya.
The play was written and directed by Bruce A. Curless; music written and directed by Brian Bacon; choreography by Courtney Daniels.
The production team includes: Bruce A. Curless — Producing Artistic Director; Matthew Weil — Associate Artistic Director; AJ Klein — Technical Director; Matthew Weil — Scenic Design; Chris Miller — Lighting Design; Matthew Gallagher — Sound Design; Megan Iafolla — Costume Design; Carolanne Helverson — Assistant Director; Brian Gensel — Stage Manager; Justin Mead — Assistant Stage Manager/Scenic Painter; Gabe Slimm — Assistant Stage Manager/Properties; and Ernie Jewell — Scenic Construction.
The Ritz Theatre Company is located at 915 White Horse Pike in Haddon Township, New Jersey.
PHOTO: from left to right, Ernie Jewell as The King, Krysten Cummings as Barsuoola, and Glen Funkhouser as The Chef.