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By Barbara Trainin Blank @traininblank
Actors often prefer playing villains instead of nice guys. Villains, they say, are more complex and interesting.
Joe Lilek, who has been performing since high school, is fortunate to be one of those complex, interesting characters in an upcoming production of “Frosted” at British Players. He plays Prince Anders, who’s more than villainous.
He’s “duplicitous,” said Lilek. “He’s a two-faced character, pretending to be good but is actually bad.”
Based on Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Snow Queen” and inspired by the popular film and Broadway musical “Frozen,” Lilek said, “Frosted has an unorthodox approach: instead of being a repulsive villain, Anders is actually one of the two main love interests.”
But love interest or not, audiences are unlikely to spare Lilek’s character the treatment most villains get in a British pantomime – which is the theatrical form “Frosted” fits into.
“Customarily, the audience boos the villains,” said Lilek.
Pantomimes are traditionally performed at Christmas, with family audiences.
Originating earlier in England but flourishing during the era of Restoration Comedy, British pantomime is popular theater, “incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, in-jokes, audience participation, and mild innuendo,” said Charles Hoag, who is directing. “A pantomime is a British take on a fairy tale. There are a number of traditional story lines.”
There are also “plenty of speaking lines” he said. “Pantomime is not to be mistaken for mime.”
British Players couldn’t use the Disney version, and “Frosted” and “Frozen” aren’t identical, but they have a similar plot and characters, Hoag said.
“Frosted” will also be new to American audiences. British Players’ production of the Warren McWilliams show marks its U.S. premiere.
Lilek might not have known about pantomime, or developed an interest in the form, had he not spent time studying abroad in York, England in 2015.
“It was serendipity,” said Lilek, who works for an earth science think tank for his day job. “I saw a pantomime show in York. Then, when I came back home, I saw that British Players was having auditions.
Perhaps the fairy tale nature of pantomimes appealed to Lilek, whose first show – in high school – was Stephen Sondheim’s mash-up of fairy tales, “Into the Woods.”
Since then, Lilek has appeared in four shows with the Players, both pantomime and not.
The Kensington-based theater has presents two pantomime productions – called “pantos” for short – every year.
British Players’ pantomimes may have fairy tales at their core – a previous production was “Beauty and the Beast,” in which Lilek also appeared. But they also make references to Kensington, and incorporate modern music.
“There’s also humor, some of which is aimed at children and some at adults,” Hoag said.
Other typical components of pantomimes is a comic female figure always played by a man who doesn’t try to seem like a woman. There are stock characters, with often-repeated jokes, he added.
One of the messages that makes both “Frozen,” and “Frosted” so beloved, said Lilek, is the theme of familiar love being as important as romantic love, especially a relationship between two sisters. That’s also true love.”
Things don’t end so happily for his villain. Without giving away too much, Lilek said, that Prince Anders will “get his comeuppance.”
“There are some similarities between the characters in “Frosted” and those of “Frozen,” said Hoag. “But we couldn’t use Disney. Let’s just say if you loved ‘Frozen,’ you’ll love this.”
Lilek added, “It’s fun to play off a lot of the other zany characters in the show.”
The next production in March is the play-within-a-play farce “Noises Off.” There will be open auditions.
“Frosted” runs Nov. 30 through Dec. 16. British Players perform at the Kensington Town Hall, 5710 Mitchell Street, Kensington. For more information, visit www.britishplayers.org.