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Cindy Lou Who Looks Back and Panto Heads for the Stars at Stages Repertory

Panto Star Force, cowritten by Ryan Schabach and Elizabeth A. M. Keel, is one of three holiday offerings at Stages Repertory Theatre this season. Also up: The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) and Who's Holiday!
Panto Star Force, cowritten by Ryan Schabach and Elizabeth A. M. Keel, is one of three holiday offerings at Stages Repertory Theatre this season. Also up: The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) and Who's Holiday!
Graphic courtesy of Stages Repertory Theatre
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Omne trium perfectum, or everything that comes in threes is perfect, and we'll see that proven this holiday season when Stages Repertory Theatre gifts Houston audiences with a trio of comedies.

The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) and Who's Holiday!, an adult-themed How the Grinch Stole Christmas parody told in Seussian rhyme, are being shown in repertory in Stages' Arena Theater. And never fear, Panto fans, because Buttons is back, although this year's audience participation comedy deviates from the fairytale themes of previous years to embrace a galaxy far, far away.

Ryan Schabach (Buttons) and Elizabeth A.M. Keel co-wrote the script for Panto Star Force, making its world premiere, and Keel tells us that Schabach "lives and breathes gags and bits." As for how their collaborative process worked, Keel says she only had to begin a sentence before the Panto veteran chimed in to complete the thought.

"To make a holiday metaphor, we started with the structure of the plot as our tree," says Keel. "And then we hung as many colorful jokes, rock song parodies and delightful references on there as it could hold. If we could make each other laugh, we knew we were on the right track."

Keel says they wrote the script so that even those unfamiliar with the Star Wars franchise will still be able to enjoy a joyful musical comedy with a compelling story. "We approached the project on a vast Cartesian grid: we're reaching vertically from ages three and up, and across the spectrum of never-seen-'em to the most die-hard Dagobahns," she adds. So everybody will know exactly when to laugh, boo and hiss at the actors.

Even though this year's Panto is intergalactic, they're not deviating far from the formula. "I imagine that any returning fans of Panto looking forward to seeing Genevieve Allenbury back onstage are in for quite a treat. I'm afraid she's turned to the 'baddie side' this year," says Keel. "[And] it wouldn't be Panto without Buttons. I understand that a #buttonsfanclub has formed over the years; I promise the spaceships won't leave without him."

This combination play of song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick and cross-dressing also includes local references. "Even though we are traveling through space, it is to planets such as Cypress and Montrose," says Keel.

Don't miss the Panto Family Fun Days that follow the Saturday matinees, with snacks, craft activities and photo opps with the cast in costume. Stages' Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin directs.

Panto Star Force is scheduled for November 21-December 30, 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Stages Yeager Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123, stagestheatre.com, $20 to $55.

It is the Houston premiere for The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged), a comedy that had its world premiere in 2011 and which throws every holiday tradition into the blender to celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Ramadan, the Twelve Days of Christmas and — the biggest fake news of all — the family newsletter. Julia Taber directs; Ronnie Blaine, Joseph "Joe P" Palmore and Gabriel Regojo take the stage.

The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) is scheduled for November 7-December 23, 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, Stages Arena Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123, stagestheatre.com, $20 to $62. (Check dates to verify which play is showing.)

In spite of the Dr. Seuss theme, Who's Holiday! is an adults only production and won't be suitable for anybody easily offended. For the rest of us, we'll be treated to an irreverent look at aging and jaded Cindy Lou Who who now lives in a trailer park and can trace her demise back to that fateful night in Whoville. Sally Edmundson directs; Bree Welch stars in this one-woman show.

Who's Holiday! is scheduled for December 5-30, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, Stages Arena Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123, stagestheatre.com, $25.60 to $72. (Check dates to verify which play is showing.)

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