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Should the Sunderland Empire show a panto over Christmas?

THE Sunderland Empire will not have a pantomime for the second year running.

Theatre bosses announced today that hit West End Musical Legally Blonde would be the venue’s chosen show for Christmas 2011.

Bosses at the High Street West theatre say they expect the award-winning show to be one of the hottest tickets for the festive season.

But families today told the Echo they were disappointed the city’s main theatre will not be hosting its own panto.

Last Christmas, community theatre The Royalty, off Chester Road, enjoyed record ticket sales for its panto from families forced to look elsewhere for a traditional pantomime after the Empire chose to host musical White Christmas instead.

Andrew Rawlinson, general manager at Sunderland Empire, said: “We are thrilled and delighted to be hosting the award winning Legally Blonde The Musical in Sunderland this Christmas.

“As The West End of the North East, the theatre can’t wait to welcome the show to the city and kick off the holiday season in spectacular style. It will be the crowning festive highlight of Sunderland Empire’s diary and one of the hottest tickets in the region in 2011.”

But mum-of-two Toni McMahon said that the Empire’s panto was an important part of Sunderland’s Christmas celebrations.

“I think it ruined Christmas a bit last year,” explained the 26-year-old from Hendon. “We took the kids to the panto in Newcastle instead. It’s an important part of Christmas for kids, it’s magical for them to watch.”

Based on the hit Hollywood movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde is created by a top creative team, led by Tony Award-winning director and Olivier Award-nominated choreographer Jerry Mitchell.

Winner of Best New Musical in this year’s prestigious Olivier Awards, the show will run at the Empire from December 6 to 31 but it has not yet been announced who will star in the show.

Actresses Sheridan Smith, from sitcom Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, and former EastEnders star Jill Halfpenny have also won Olivier awards for their roles in the musical.

It tells the story of college sweetheart and homecoming queen Elle Woods who, after being dumped by her boyfriend, hits the books, and heads for Harvard Law School accompanied by her chihuahua, Bruiser

Howard Panter, joint chief executive of Ambassador Theatre Group, which runs the Empire, said:“Ambassador Theatre Group’s co-production of Legally Blonde The Musical is enjoying great success on the West End and we have now decided to take it out on its first ever UK tour so regional audiences who can’t make it to London can experience this fantastic show.

“I am sure Sunderland people will take Elle Woods to their hearts and give her the warm welcome that the city is so famous for.”

But mum-of-four, Sandra Lynch, 35, from Thorney Close said: “It’s not the sort of thing for kids. Surely a musical can be put on any time of the year. But Christmas should be a time for pantos.”

Grandma Marie Fitzsimmons, 70, from Plains Farm, said: “When we were growing up the pantomime was a highlight of Christmas. White Christmas was good last year but I think the Empire should go back to a pantomime.

“Sometimes though the amateur productions, like the one at The Royalty, can be just as good.”

•Tickets go on sale to LiveCard members and Groups 10+ this Friday at 10am, before going on general sale on Wednesday March 30 at 10am.