The centuries-old holiday tradition of the British Panto has been updated and adapted for our very own New York City neighborhood, the Lower East Side. The all inclusive, fun-for-the-whole-family production of Jack and the Beanstock arrives at Abrons next week, courtesy of local celebs, Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz (stars and creators of their hit show, Beauty and the Beast).
A “Panto” (formally called a Pantomime, but having nothing to do with mimes, as we know them) is based on a traditional fairy tale complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters and lots of audience participation. It’s always a community-centric enterprise, including local music, pop culture references and in this case, 45 pies.
Fraser and Atlas Muz have dedicated their version to the Lower East Side community, with throwback references to New York City ’70s-era nostalgia, and current local references that include characters like Dame “Delancey,” Mayor “De Blasé,” and an evil landlord, “Giant Rump.” Neighborhood establishments like The Pickle Guys and the Mexican restaurant, La Flaca, make cameos, as well.
A downtown favorite, performance artist Dirty Martini, plays The Good Fairy. Jennie Geal, an Abrons Urban Youth Theater program graduate, plays Jack and Michael Johnnie Lynch plays Dame Delancey.
Fraser, who is British, and Atlas Muz, a New Yorker, have lived on the Lower East Side for over a decade. They also have a home in London, but are quick to profess their love for the L.E.S. Fraser and Atlas Muz have built a strong creative community around them and have a particular fondness for the Abrons Arts Center — they were married on the Playhouse stage in 2012.
“This is the best neighborhood ever to live, in the whole world, and it gives us such love, and we want to give it back,” Fraser told me in a recent interview. “It’s so village-y and community oriented, it’s just a delight to be a part of.”
Fraser grew up with the 300-year-old traditional British experience of the “Panto,” what he described as, “a theater experience for families at holiday time, housed around a favorite tale with a community based, vaudevillian morality tale.” He said he’s always wanted to do one. Fraser wears the writer’s hat and will play drums for this production; Atlas Muz dons the director’s hat, taking a break from her choreography and burlesque performance art.
The show also includes six young actor/singer/dancers and a tap-dancing cow. Fraser and Atlas Muz have modernized the archetypes a bit — Jack and his heroine, Rosie, fight and chop down the bean stock together, with help from the audience. “It actually takes the whole community to fight evil,” Fraser said, “We are fairly confident that people are going to be blown away by it and really enjoy watching a show that they’ll recognize is about them.”
“They will see themselves [represented] on stage,” Atlas Muz added.
She acknowledged that they are known as radical adult artists, but noted this might be the most radical thing they’ve done. “It makes sense for artists to take refuge in children’s theater right now…you can still be as wild and as radical — it’s just for a different audience and you’re planting the seeds for future thought.”
In the end, the show’s message is one of inclusivity, working together and caring for each other.
“It’s been a very dark year, and to have something to look forward to, is super special,” Atlas Muz added, “this is our gift to Grand Street.”
Previews: December 6–9 at 7:30pm; December 9 at 2pm
Opening: December 10 at 2pm
Regular performances: December 14–16, 20–23 at 7:30pm; December 16, 17, 23 at 2pm
Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand Street, Manhattan) tel: 212.352.3101
$25–$45; A Show for Everyone 5+
The cast of Jack & the Beanstalk, includes downtown favorites Dirty Martini, Hawthorn Albatross III, Michael Johnnie Lynch, Matt Roper, Jenni Gil, David Ilku, Christina Duryea, Sarah Folkins, Ekaterina Sknarina, Jonathan Rodriguez, Poison Ivory, Allison Jane, Mikey Giordano, Lute Breuer, Rachael Wickham Shane and Kate Brehm, as well as a chorus of six children: Belle Breuer, Annabel Cole, Oliver Medlin, Dylan Cox, Briseis Mendez, and Nate Maxwell.
The creative team includes Neelam Vaswani (Production Design), David Quinn (Costume Designer), Steven Hammel (Scenic), Ben Williams (Sound), Jon Harper (Lights), Meghan Kelleher (Music Director), Randy Luna (Choreographer), Basil Twist (Puppet Consultant), Kristina Auten (Stage Manager), and Michelle Stern (Associate Producer).