Dann Wilhelm is taking it easy this Christmas season – by his standards, anyway.
Some would say that directing Aladdin and the Magic Lamp – 65th anniversary edition of White Rock Players Club’s legendary pantomime (running through December at White Rock Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd.) – would be, in itself, enough of a responsibility.
But this time last year, Wilhelm was pushing the limits by not only directing – but also serving as author, actor and musical director – for the runaway hit Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom.
With Aladdin, it seems all his wishes are coming true.
He has a cast packed with popular and reliable local talents (a number of them making a welcome return from Robin Hood); a “fun” script by Chase Thomson, which he is co-producing with Charles ‘The Fez’ Buettner; Sierra Milne, returning to do choreography; and a full-time musical director, Marquis Byrd – although Wilhelm admits he “helped a bit, in that department,” including choosing a score that pays tribute to the hits of Elton John, and Freddie Mercury and Queen.
“We had two really popular biopic movies this year that kind of cinched that!” he added.
And, yes, he – and others – have added to the script, in typical White Rock panto fashion, to include more localized and timely zingers.
“It started out kind of generic, but we threw in some local references and updated some pop-culture references and added some local, provincial and federal government jokes,” Wilhelm confessed.
“But at least I didn’t cast myself,” he noted (panto fans will recall his commanding performance last year as the villainous, yet somehow likable, Sheriff of Nottingham.)
The show opens officially tonight (Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m.) at White Rock Playhouse after two preview performances, and runs through the month to a last matinee on Dec. 29.
It promises to be a colourful version of the time-honoured panto classic, thanks in no small measure to bright and glitzy costumes put together by Amara Anderson and sets designed by Damon Bradley Jang and Buettner – albeit with a little more realism, Wilhelm said, than the cartoonish “Sgt. Pepper-style trees” that suited Robin Hood’s Beatles-oriented approach.
“Damon is a local actor, director and choreographer who also has a background in marketing and set design – which has worked out really well for Aladdin,” Wilhelm said.
“The sets have a really cool and very different idea for a panto that I’ve never seen before, a lot of multi-use pieces that spin around and become something else – things are moving constantly,” he added.
Also constantly on the move in this show is versatile player Adrian Shaffer stepping into the lead role of poor-but-happy Aladdin who lives with his mother Widow Twankey (veteran panto comic Ray Van Ieperen in full-on Dame-mode) and brother Wishy Washy (former FVGSS player Paige Thomsen) at the family’s laundromat.
“Adrian has this natural charm about her,” Wilhelm noted. “It was kind of a no-brainer to cast her when she auditioned – she was nailing it from her first readings.”
Sadly, Aladdin becomes a pawn in the schemes of the wily Abenazar the Great (Jake Hildebrand, relishing the opportunity to play a villain), who is plotting to take over the world with the help of a magic ring and a magic lamp.
But the young man’s fortunes change when he meets the lovely, strong-willed Princess Jasmine (Sara Morales), who has been resisting the attempts of her father, the Emperor (Reginald Pillay) to arrange a marriage for her.
Also contributing to the fun are Christopher Hall as a very flamboyant Genie of the Lamp, Janelle Carss as a conflicted Genie of the Ring (forced to help Abenazar but wanting to help Aladdin) and Dianna Gola-Harvey as Jasmine’s helpful handmaiden, Handy.
“We have a small ensemble cast this year – which means that everybody has their moment to shine,” Wilhelm said.
Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m Wednesday through Saturday, with 2:30 p.m. matinees Dec. 8, 15, 22 and 29 (closing show).
Tickets ($24; $15 students and seniors) are available from whiterockplayers.ca or call 604-536-7535.