According to Wikipedia, there are several conventions for a panto, including:
- An older woman (the pantomime dame - often the hero's mother) is usually played by a man in drag.
- Audience participation, including calls of "He's behind you!" (or "Look behind you!").
- Music may be original but is more likely to combine well-known tunes with re-written lyrics. At least one "audience participation" song is traditional: one half of the audience may be challenged to sing 'their' chorus louder than the other half.
- A slapstick comedy routine may be performed, often a decorating or baking scene, with humour based on throwing messy substances.
All of these conventions were upheld at Beauty and the Beast. Within minutes of the curtain opening, I was already lost. Characters appeared on the stage and audiences started yelling and booing. Then someone would say something (mainly "oh, yes I am") and then everyone around us would shout "oh, no you're not!" I caught on pretty quickly, but it was jarring for an entire audience of 500 to know what is happening when you don't.
The whole show was just pretty silly with tons of bad jokes and slapstick humor. The main slapstick routine involved dirty dishes hurdling down two chutes at a character who was supposed to be catching and washing them. Obviously, they came too quickly and they all shot past him and broke. It was cute.
My favorite part about the show was that pretty early on one of the characters said hello to the audience and the audience said hello back. This started a whole bit about challenging different parts of the audience to say hello louder. First he pointed to the balcony, then the middle, then up front. Then he pointed to the side of the room, then the other side. Then he pointed to just the front row, then the middle seats of the front row, then one guy! Richard, the poor guy who got called out, pretty much became part of the show. He was used as the butt of a lot of jokes and even was asked to lead the audience participation song at the end of the show. It was really funny.
While it was all different and unexpected, there were a few things that were really surprising. First, I really thought there wouldn't be any talking...you know...just pantomiming. Thank goodness, that was not the case. Second, they sang pop songs like Katy Perry's "Firework" and Lady Gaga's "Born This Way!" And third, they was a tremendous amount of audience participation. At one point, the play stopped while all of the characters walked around the theater handing out sweets to the kids!
It was a really fun evening and I'm glad I went. The theater was absolutely gorgeous, and there was a full bar! I'm telling you, you haven't lived until you drink a gin and tonic while watching a Christmas pantomime :)