The bottom line
Little Red Riding Hood is an English panto-style production playing at Federal Way's Centerstage Theatre through Dec. 22. A British theatrical holiday tradition, the panto is a fairy tale that's told as a comedy, complete with exaggerated characters, jokes, singing, dancing, cross-dressing and lots of audience participation. Essential parts of a traditional panto include “the Dame,” a funny female character played by a male actor, a larger-than-life villain at whom the audience boos at every opportunity, and even ghosts. (The ghosts are funny, not scary.) This G-rated show is highly recommended for ages 5 and older.
Centerstage's 2016 panto opens with some prep: The wizard Magithor explains her evil plot and the good fairy, Fairy Dust (Magithor's enemy), tells the audience when and how to respond to the actors — from booing the villain and cheering for the good fairy to reminding the prince to take off his crown.
You can already tell that this is not your grandma's Red Riding Hood story. Though this version of Little Red Riding Hood includes some traditional characters, in this panto the Big Bad Wolf is a vegan and the red cape is a magical red hoodie. Similarly, the plot follows anything but a straight line. The cast integrates comedy skits (some having nothing to do with the play), parodies of popular pop songs with the words changed to reflect the characters, and even a break to sing "Ghostbusters" to chase away the ghosts.
There are also new characters. Red’s brother Robin is hilariously played by actress Taylor Davis; and Red and Robin’s mother, Dame Hood, is reprised by actor and artistic director Alan Bryce. Red is played by Helen Martin; her Australian accent makes her cute character even more adorable. Zack Summers plays the bumbling prince disguised as a woodcutter with great comedic timing and a beautiful singing voice.
Audience participation is a key part of the play. Dame Hood chooses a man in the audience and keeps up a running joke with him throughout the play. In the second act,a few kids from the audience are invited onto the stage to help lead a song, which the whole audience joins in. And of course, spectators boo the villain and cheer for the good guys. At the end the cast throws candy at the audience and then they all appear in the lobby in costume to meet with fans and for photo ops.
This show is truly for the whole family. My three kids, ages 17,13 and 9 all enjoyed the play. (And my husband may have laughed harder than the kids.) There were plenty of gags and slapstick comedy for younger kids, along with humor for the adults and older teens. My family enjoys this panto so much that we attend every year.
Parents should know
The theater recommends this show for ages 5 and older. But, although the show is action-packed and engaging, it is long, with a running time (including intermission) of two hours and 45 minutes. Parents will know how long their kids can sit. Otherwise, this is a fun show for the whole family.
If you go ...
When: Little Red Riding Hood plays at Centerstage Theatre through Dec. 22
Where: 3200 S.W. Dash Point Road in Federal Way.
Prices: Tickets are $35 for adults, $30 for seniors and military and $15 for youth under age 25. Buy online.
- Bottled water, coffee, and small snacks are available for sale in the lobby.
- There is open seating, so you might want to arrive early.
- Tip for the men: Don’t sit too close to the front if you want to avoid catching Dame Hood’s eye and becoming part of the show!
- The actors come out to the lobby for pictures and autographs after the show, so have your camera ready.
- The theater is in a wooded area. After leaving the main road, you will drive down a long, curving road. As the box office told me, “You will think you are lost, but you’re not!” They also recommend, if using GPS, entering the whole street name, and not abbreviating “Point” or “Road.” I had no trouble finding the theater.