Just in time for Christmas, the third local panto of the holiday season rolls into Surrey Arts Centre this week with a bushel-load of traditional, family-friendly, British-style fun.
The show is Ellie King’s Sleeping Beauty, presented by the Royal Canadian Theatre Company, and – after some 25 years of panto productions – everyone knows the Langley-based producer/author’s winning formula.
Colourful, extravagant costumes, cheery songs, a magical retelling of a familiar fairy tale, silliness, puns, slapstick comedy and hiss-worthy bad guys are mandatory for the show, which runs Dec. 19-28.
There’s a radiant, tuneful principal girl – White Rock resident Melissa Paras as Princess Rosebud – the ‘sleeping beauty’ of the title for at least some of the running time.
And – in the time-honoured fashion of all old-country pantos – there is also a brave principal ‘boy’ who just happens to look good in fishnet stockings (Andie Francis as Prince Indigo), and a ludicrous Dame (RCTC favourite Alan Cedargreen, once more donning drag as Rosebud’s nurse Bizzie Lizzie).
“Alan is his usual wonderful self,” RCTC founder and artistic director King said. “And Andie and Melissa have got youth and vigor and energy – they’re everybody’s perfect principal boy and girl.”
Paras adds a nice touch of rebellious spirit as a princess “raised in cotton-wool” by overprotective parents, King said.
But there is one big change to the show this year – for the first time King has handed off directing chores (though, typically, she’s been busy as hands-on producer of the all-in-the-family enterprise, up to and including painting the sets).
Fortunately her choice for successor at the helm is her own son, James, a panto perennial known for finding his own ingenious, humourously twisted, variations on the panto Demon each year.
“I was a little trepidatious – it’s not easy handing it over,” King confessed. “But I’m very pleased with James’ direction. He still asks for my ‘eye’ on things, and it’s looking very good and playing very well.”
Her own influence on Sleeping Beauty is still abundantly in evidence, of course. In addition to writing the script, King has collaborated with RCTC’s stalwart musical director, husband Geoff, on four original songs for the show: Any Little Dream (a romantic waltz), When I Am 18 (a wistful solo for Rosebud), Waiting For You (a ballad) and the self-explanatory Bad Guys’ Song.
In that vein, James’ new duties have enabled Stephen Elchesen to step out of his customary ‘Idle Jack’ shoes and into the juicy role of Demon Hemlock, joining his wife and fellow RCTC veteran, Kerri Norris (as the evil Fairy Nightshade) and Michael Widman (as henchman Igor) on the villainous end of the scale (“they’ve moved over to the dark side,” quipped King).
Helping to counterbalance the evil is another Semiahmoo Peninsula player who’s become part of the RCTC stock company, Erin Marshall, spreading sweetness and light – in her own distinctive way – as Fairy Snowdrop.
“I think this is Erin’s third with us, and she’s been a great addition to the team,” King said.
Sleeping Beauty is also a two-‘boy’ panto, as King points out, giving RCTC regular Jackie Bruce ample scope to step out in the tights role of Prince Basil, while Brad Dewar provides kid-friendly laughs as the show’s ‘Idle Jack,’ Sweet William, and Lauren Trotzuk adds flair as Princess Rosebud’s best friend, Poppy.
“Lauren is fabulous – she’s got a voice just like (old-time English star) Gracie Fields,” King enthused.
Adding to the fun, and in keeping with the pervasive floral theme (“except for Igor – I don’t know where he came from,” chuckled King) are monarchs Queen Floribunda (Susanne Delisimunovic) and King Grandiflora (Jeremy Glass), while Grandpa (John More) and Hogweed (Mark Manning) add a typically confused touch to the merriment, along with a full complement of singing and dancing townspeople and courtiers.
As if that were not enough, the show features a high-toned terpsichorean interlude to boost the cultural content at Surrey Arts Centre over the holidays, King promised.
“It’s called the Dance of the Mucky Ducks, by the Ballet Nuisance,” she laughed.
Sleeping Beauty runs until Dec. 28 at the Surrey Arts Centre main stage, with a two-for-one preview on Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. and matinees at 2:30 p.m. (There will also be a brief follow-up run Jan. 2-3 at the ACT in Maple Ridge).
Surrey Arts Centre is located at 13750 88 Ave. For tickets, call 604-501-5566, or visit www.rcttheatreco.com