James Walker as Boris and Chelsea Tucker as Ivana flank Sheena Johnston as Anastasia in the upcoming pantomime The Frog Princess.

Panto offers upbeat family fun

The Frog Princess brings to the stage humour for all ages.

You don’t have to remind Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society president Dann Wilhelm that the organization’s annual Christmas pantomimes are a family affair – often with multiple generations of many clans ‘treading the boards’ together.

His daughter, Willow, 8, is very much in evidence as a member of the chorus in this year’s effort, The Frog Princess (Surrey Arts Centre, Nov. 27-Dec. 8), for which Wilhelm is himself serving the all-important adult-and-kiddie-wrangling role of stage manager.

“She was very thrilled to try out and work on a show with Daddy,” he said proudly. “It’s pretty much a natural for her. She’s a second-generation panto person – third, actually, because my dad helped out on several of the shows.”

The togetherness factor of friends, family and extended family is one of the reasons FVGSS pantos have evolved an increasingly home-grown feel, he said, and that’s the case with The Frog Princess, directed by FVGSS veteran Mike Balser from his own script, written in collaboration with noted past contributors Norma Rushton and Cathy Wilmot.

“It’s an original panto written for us – we’ve been trying to do that for the last few years,” Wilhelm said.

“It’s very funny – with a lot of different types of humour, from high-brow to low-brow and very physical comedy – and lots of upbeat musical numbers.”

A large part in determining the choice of songs is played by musical director Timothy Tucker who is (the family connection, again) the father of Chelsea Tucker, who plays principal villainess, the glamorous Ivana Castacurski, in the set-in-mythical-Russia panto.

She, aided and abetted by not-too-bright son Boris (noted scene-stealer James Walker), is responsible for turning Princess Anastasia (Sheena Johnston) into a frog, part of her scheme to marry Anastasia’s father the Tsar (Adrian Duncan).

“Sheena was head of costumes on the last couple of shows and is also a talented actor with very nice singing voice – it’s nice to get her on stage for a change,” Wilhelm said.

“Adrian was great as Ferrari in last year’s Phantom of the Panto – and he’s also an older gentleman with a big beard, so it was a no-brainer casting him as the Tsar.”

Principal boy Misha is played by Michelle Gaetz, who audiences will remember as Pinocchio in last year’s White Rock panto.

“She’s a great addition and a lot of fun to watch,” Wilhelm said, adding that the “very strong cast” also includes Joni Hayden-Summerton as Anastasia’s best friend, Petra, and comedic stalwarts Samantha Andrews and Jeff Christensen as “good cop-bad cop fairies.”

Performances run Wednesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m., for tickets and information, call 604-501-5566 or visit www.fvgss.org

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