City Academy’s 2022 panto flirts with classic musical themes and is an awful lot of fun! It’s a cracking festive evening with phenomenal songs and dance routines, chucklesome costumes and even a huge dragon (yes, when I say huge, I mean it).
You can tell you’re in the great kingdom of panto land when the audience is filled to the brim with the excitement of both kids (even toddlers) and adults. The stage features a group of dancing animals as well as brexit/lockdown/UK politics puns, and the audience gets to not just “boo” at the villain but even sing a little karaoke number at the end. Now that’s what I call panto!
Welcome to the City Academy’s “Sleeping Beauty” panto AD 2022, where musicals old and new are the base of everything that happens on the stage, and the talented cast brings to life characters that will make you laugh, no matter the age. So if your favourite musical is one of the Disney shows (“Encanto”, anybody?), or a classic like the “West Side Story”, you will for sure end up clapping your hands and singing along by the end, pinky promise.
The classic story of a young princess who falls asleep for a hundred years is served with some spicy and wonderfully dramatic twists here. Aurora (charming, Dr Martens-wearing Lizzie Doherty) is a girl who isn’t really excited to live her life adhering to social expectations and prefers to live a free, adventurous life. She is accompanied by her best friend Muddles (Jon Zecharia), who quickly becomes the audience’s favourite – thanks to his tad clownish, just tad slapstick interactions with the audience. Aurora’s parents (Natalie Cannon and Peter Sims) – truly showcase the “we’ve been together for such a long time, nothing can surprise us” vibes and want their best for their daughter, but there’s one crucial thing they haven’t mentioned to her – a long-promised marriage deal with a prince from a far-away land…
There is, of course, the classic, and utterly dazzling duo of Fairy Fabulous (Florence Cook, who delivered a stunning solo earlier this year in “Evita” – so nice to see her on the stage again!) and her villainous sister Maleficent (Emily Booth, the title “Evita” and a solid vocal performer – is there anything this girl can’t deliver on stage? wow!).
What I especially enjoyed was the little meeting of Aurora and her Prince Florizel (the boysband-styled, somehow Superman-inspired Justin Jeffreys, such a great performance!) in the woods. The two get to interact and fall in love before the poor princess falls asleep – which makes the epic kiss and the wake-up scene much less creepy than in some other versions of the tale. Plus, the two get to perform one of my very favourite musical mashups – “Teenage Dream/Break Free” from “&Juliet”. Accompanied by a crowd of magical forest animals (and random cancer/crab too), the song delivers the perfect classic fairytale moment we all need and deserve this Christmas.
There’s some solid work done with the costumes (by Rebecca Ward), with the Lady Gaga-inspired blue dress of Fairy Fabulous and the stunning and sharp outfit of Maleficent to start with. I was especially intrigued by the detailed, claw-ended glows of the latter – plus a multi-layered outfit, which created nice movement whenever she showed on stage. The costumes of animals are done with a little wink towards the audience – sometimes a tiny detail makes us understand that it’s “this” Ice Age squirrel, not just any furry ball from a London park. My highlight was the outfit of the Queen in the second act – the added warm vest and a scarf on the head made her an almost exact copy of… you know which real-life Queen.
The stage is very minimalistic – Bridewell Centre’s stage space has been almost reduced in half and features just a white screen with cartoon-like projections, and seemingly no other props. However, in the second act, a dragon appears and makes up for any other props in the show. Let me just mention, 4 cast members were managing this complex creature – just imagine!
How did this huge cast manage to perform together in this small space is a mystery – I can just applaud the director (Pippa Duffy) and the choreographer (Ughetta Pratesi) for making it happen somehow. In such a tiny space, actors bumping into each other or choreography issues are almost a given, but somehow, were fully avoided here – impressive!
Vocally, it’s a celebration. Not just any party – no, it’s a proper West-End quality musical fiesta, with powerful solos (“I can’t stand still” by the Prince) and epic, full ensemble numbers (“One Day More” performed by the full cast as the Act 1 finale, how classic is that!), and my absolute favourite: “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, with perfectly executed polyphonic outro – not an easy feat to perform with such a large cast!
“Sleeping Beauty” is high energy and infectiously good fun from the moment the curtain goes up in act one. It delivers all the panto classic elements, and some more – the authentic, visible joy the cast shows during the show. It’s a Christmas show with all the trimmings – and a big heart to it.
“Sleeping Beauty” by City Academy Musical Company
Bridewell Theatre, 5-12 December 2022
DIRECTOR AND WRITER Pippa Duffy
CHOREOGRAPHER Ughetta Pratesi
MUSICAL DIRECTOR Sarah Vaughan
STAGE MANAGER Ana Pascual Gonzalez
HEAD OF MUSICAL THEATRE Rebecca Wicking
MUSICAL THEATRE ASSISTANT Giusy Pappalardo
SOUND Matt Case
LIGHTING Jack Evans
PROJECTIONS Noemie Cauvin
COSTUME DESIGNER Rebecca Ward