A very merry `panto'


Most are familiar with the childhood story of Jack and the Beanstalk, but Fell's Point Corner Theatre is telling the tale a little differently this holiday season. Lynda McClary is directing a British "panto" version of this classic fairytale, starting tomorrow.

Not to be confused with a pantomime, a British panto includes speaking and, in this production, song and dance. British pantos are characterized by fairytale story lines and slapstick humor.

Although the panto form dates to medieval times, the comedy remains fresh because Fell's Point Corner Theatre never uses old scripts. Jokes allude to comical present-day events.

"It's a real mixed bag of fun for everyone," says McClary. Different jokes appeal to different age groups. Children love the fairytale story that they know well, but, as McClary explains, "there's a lot of innuendo for adults. Adults find themselves sitting there saying, `I can't believe they just said that!'"

The story follows Jack (Sarah Levin) through his adventures after planting magical beans that sprout into an enormous beanstalk that reaches the sky. The production alters the traditional story by portraying the magic beans as Vegas showgirls; the joke being that they are "human beans" instead of human beings. The beanstalk is crafted from the showgirls' clothing.

Jack climbs the beanstalk and meets the giant, who isn't as vicious and frightening as one would think - he is simply a puppet head that peeps over the backdrop. The terrifying character is Jack's mother, according to McClary: She is "the Ebenezer Scrooge character of our holiday production."

In pantos, many of the important female roles are portrayed by men because when the panto was first performed in medieval times, women were not allowed on stage. In this performance, two lead female characters, Jack's mother and the giant's wife, are played by actors Rich Espey and Jason Crawford.

This is Fell's Point Corner Theatre's second panto; last year, it presented a Cinderella panto to much applause.

"I was first exposed to the panto last year when I directed Cinderella and fell in love with it," McClary explains. She, as well as many of the actors from the Cinderella production, is returning this year because the experience was so enjoyable.

"One funny thing happens after another. We have a good time, and it's a great way to start the holiday season," McClary says.


'Jack and the Beanstalk' will be performed at the Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St., tomorrow through Dec. 18. Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for senior citizens and students and $6 for children younger than 12. Call 410-276-7837 or visit www.fpct.org for more information.

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