Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, November 2002

The Panto is back! Puss In Boots and the Witch of Punsit Creek is the third annual British-American pantomime production at Spencertown Academy, and, while it isn’t quite as hilariously loopy as its predecessors, it remains a highlight of the holiday season in Columbia County.

In case you are new to the Panto, the basic premise is that you use a well-known folk tale as an excuse to run around and be silly for an hour and a half. Men dress as women, women dress as men, fairies ride collapsible bicycles, popular songs are genially murdered, and facial tics are cured with tick repellent. This year the bare bones of Puss In Boots provides an excuse for jabs at a controversial local cement plant, plugs for environmental awareness and the ethical treatment of animals, and an excellent vehicle for litter box jokes.

It is worth the price of admission to the annual British-American pantomime at the Spencertown Academy to see Greta Bols O’Fire (aka Robert Zuckerman) in a dress. While everyone on the stage and off is obviously having a wonderful time, Zuckerman is the true entertainer of the lot. This year he is cast as Pollutia von Schtunk, the Witch of Punsit Creek, and gets to belt out a couple of down-and-dirty rock and roll numbers. I encourage you to brush up your booing, hissing, and heckling for Zuckerman’s raucously evil entrances.

Of course, Lady Regina Rows-Well (aka Rick Rowsell) and Dame Priscilla Pathetic (aka Ron Harrington) fill out their dresses quite, um, admirably, too. (Although someone should tell Harrington that blue eye shadow is out, out, out!) Lily O. de Fields (aka Nancy Rothman) is one of the few people who gets to play her own gender as Our Fair Heroine, Flora, and Sal La Roux (aka Sally McCarthy) once again plays her Handsome Swain, Prospect Gentry.

There are actually two cats on the stage, the titular Puss played by Oliver Gaylord Camp (aka Johnna Murray) and the witch’s cat, Helix (not, not Felix, Helix) played by Thor Roth (aka Walter Bauer). Both exhibit felicitous felinity and deliver their signature numbers – These Boots are Made for Talking and Feelings – with aplomb, although their duet on Memories (from Cats, natch) is purr-fection. (If you think these puns are bad, wait until you see the show!)

While Spencertown Academy Executive Director and native Brit Judy Staber (who also puts on her silver wig and dress to play Auntie Dote) gets authorial credit, the whole cast, now officially christened the Panto-Loons, chips in (or should I say chips away?) at her script and contributes liberally to the desecration of the musical numbers.

My one complaint about this year’s Panto is that it aims a little over the heads of the children in the audience. This is family fare, but many of the musical jokes, double entendres, and topical environmental references require quite a sophisticated knowledge of the world to enjoy. One preschooler behind me was so intent on having fun that s/he laughed way too loudly and too long at anything even remotely amusing. But the show moves along quickly enough that little ones don’t get bored. I just hope that next year the creative team aims a little lower with their humor, an odd request of an event that strives so strenuously to appeal to the lowest possible audience denominator.

Puss In Boots and the Witch of Punsit Creek, performed by the Panto-Loons runs November 29 at 7:30 p.m., and November 23, 24 & 30 & December 1 at 2:30 p.m, with a special benefit performance for the Columbia-Greene Humane Society November 23 at 5 p.m., at the Spencertown Academy on Rt. 203 in Spencertown, NY. The show runs 80 minutes with no intermission and is suitable for the whole family.

Tickets are $12 for adults/ $10 for members and $6 for children 12 and under. Tickets for the Humane Society Benefit are $15 and $6 for children 12 and under. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-392-6264.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002

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