Winter Panto: Paul Bunyan and the Winter of the Blue Snow

February 7, 2019

in Musicals, Plays

Play, Musical (2019)
by Matthew Woods and the Ensemble

Director: Matthew Woods

Imaginary Beasts
Charlestown Working Theater
Charlestown, MA
January 17 – February 10, 2019

Costume Design: Cotton Talbot-Minkin; Scenic Design: Megan Kinneen

With Molly Kimmerling, Robin Donovan Bocchiaro, Dan Prio, Matthew W. Woods, Kiki Samko, Jemma, Tory, Colin McIntire, Belissa Barker, Michael Obremski, Ly Meloccaro, Joey C. Pelletier, Noah Simes, Jamie Semel, Laura Detwiler, Lauren Foster, Amy Meyer

Laura Detwiler as Carrie McGinty, Joey C. Pelletier as Niagara, the Shaggy Dog, Kiki Samko as Paul Bunyan in 'Paul Bunyan and the Winter of the Blue Snow'

Laura Detwiler as Carrie McGinty
Joey C. Pelletier as Niagara, the Shaggy Dog
Kiki Samko as Paul Bunyan
in “Paul Bunyan and the Winter of the Blue Snow”
Photo: Courtesy of Imaginary Beasts

A wonderfully rambunctious romp, full of endless gags, word play, and a high degree of energetic fun.

Imaginary Beasts has brought a wonderful gift to Boston – an annual invention based on the British panto, a form of music hall entertainment that anticipated American vaudeville and then took some cues from it. Traditionally based on a well-known folk tale, the panto would then take off in weird and interesting directions, offering its own wildly improvised forms of comedy to enhance it.

In the current offering, Imaginary Beasts has taken on the story of Paul Bunyan and worked its magic with it. Paul Bunyan is played with gusto and verve by a woman of normal size, Kiki Samko (though another character on stilts does show up later in the performance).

On a mission to challenge King Zero, the Demon King of the endless winter (Matthew W. Woods), Paul Bunyan enlists a troupe of devoted adventurers including Niagara, the Shaggy Dog (Joey C. Pelletier), Maybelline “Mabel” Syrup (Noah Simes), Babe, the Blue Ox (Colin McIntire), Aunt Pattycake (Jamie Semel), Carrie McGinty (Laura Detwiler) and Amy Meyer (The Runaway Flapjack). You get the idea – it’s a band of wonderful crazies, and the actors who realize them give it their all. (The above, by the way, is just a taste of the complete cast which is outrun in numbers only by the degree of passion, wit, enthusiasm and general exuberance they give to the performance.)

Playwright and director Matthew Woods has done a remarkable job of enlisting and coordinating all of the creative energies of his cast, who also happen to be his co-writers. The witty punnings abound at every turn, and there are goofs in every line. One runs fast to keep up, but the challenge is exhilarating.

The Charlestown Working Theater is an intimate space, which makes this panto event so special. One is almost in the midst of it as it unfolds. In fact, the audience is energetically encouraged to yell out, clap, give coordinated appeals to each of the characters at different points (when the light above the stage goes off, everyone must say what’s the big idea?, and so on). In the performance I attended, one of the audience members was so bold as to engage in the performance itself, and was on stage for a good five or ten minutes. It surprised the cast a little bit, but everyone carried it off superbly and it added tremendous fun.

Costumes for these performances, by Cotton Talbot-Minkin, are a work of genius, and add considerably to the nicely designed but modest settings by Megan Kinneen.

In addition to Kiki Samko’s great exuberance as Paul Bunyan, Noah Simes gives hilariously broad and wonderful shtick to “Mabel” Syrup, dubbed ‘our Dame.’ But those are just two of any number of terrific performances.

There are also puppets which peek out of the side of the wall or from behind the edges of the sets. Just one more way in which things keep hopping. And this show is, by the way, a musical of sorts – there are witty song numbers with some fun, simple choreography, all done convincingly well.

The show goes on for a bit – it’s said to be two hours but the performance I saw went on for somewhat longer. There’s plenty of entertainment to fill that space, but one should be prepared to take it all in at that length.

The whole gestalt of this theater group is terrific – it’s participatory, it’s energetic, and they have very modestly priced concessions!

This is well worth a visit to Charlestown – it will brighten up your winter considerably.

– BADMan

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