Opening an eight-show run at Surrey Arts Centre’s Main Stage Friday (Dec. 16), the production is set to music written by King, whose life was ended by a heart attack in October after 16 years of helping wife Ellie King build the theatre company into a Surrey entertainment staple.
The panto actors, crew and audiences will all miss Geoff, who always stood out stage-side in a white suit.
“It’s his swansong, a huge gift to us,” said Crystal Weltzin, who wrote the script and also acts. “He was always my musical inspiration, and I actually started to learn piano because of him, although I’m not nearly at his level of talent.”
Geoff’s recorded music will be played during the show, including “Here’s to You,” a final song sure to produce some tears.
“We don’t have anyone playing music live this year, and it’s the first time for us in 16-plus years,” Weltzin explained. “He always did, but this year we won’t, because it wouldn’t be right if it’s not Geoff playing his own music. We’re looking at options for next year to see if we can collaborate with anyone locally who’d want to come write music for us.”
VIDEO: Rehearsal of "The Snow Queen: A Frozen Adventure," a panto by @rctheatreco at @SurreyArtsCtre starting Friday.
The show is dedicated to music director Geoff King, who helped wife Ellie build company over the past 16 years. @crystal_weltzin
STORY: https://t.co/utTrDIbicT pic.twitter.com/XwKofEvcN5
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) December 13, 2022
Last July, Ellie King retired from the job of leading the theatre company, for which she was the managing artistic director, and handed the reins to production manager Weltzin and artistic director Kerri Norris.
Residents of Langley, the Kings created pantos in the British tradition, and that continues with “The Snow Queen: A Frozen Adventure” for the run at Surrey Arts Centre over 10 days, with performances to follow at Anvil Centre in New Westminster.
“We’re all very in tune with those British traditions that Ellie brought, one of them being Evil has to stay on stage left, and Good is on the right, and they don’t ever cross – that’s a huge tradition,” Weltzin said.
“If we see other (panto) shows do that, we all scream,” she added with a laugh. “To us, that’s wrong, but everybody has their own rules for pantos. We have Ellie’s rules that we stick to. We have slapstick, we have our traditional dame and an Idle Jack character who has an Idol Jane. Those are stock characters that we play with and put in the show every year.”
MORE VIDEO: Music from @rctheatreco's panto "The Snow Queen: A Frozen Adventure," which on Friday opens an eight-show run at Surrey Arts Centre.
It's the swansong of music director Geoff King — "a huge gift to us,” says @crystal_weltzin.
— Tom Zillich (@TomZillich) December 13, 2022
On Sunday (Dec. 11), during a final rehearsal at the theatre company’s studio in Whalley, even the other actors booed the evil, silver-clad Jack Frost (played by Nikola Trotzuk), opposite Fairy Sunbeam (Rebecca Trotzuk, who is Nikola’s sister). Stephen Elcheshen returns as the panto’s dame (Granny Lettago), among two dozen actors in the strong, high-energy cast.
Weltzin plays Lesa, which may or may not be an anagram for the name of a character in Disney’s “Frozen” movie.
“Her story is very much about trying to keep everything the same, kinda like in 2020 when everything was stagnating and she was happy and content,” Weltzin said. “Everything changes, and she’s kind of dealing with consequences and her choices, figuring out what she wants.”
Weltzin began writing the script early this year, after creating the company’s “Alice in Wonderland” panto story in 2021.
“This is a bit of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’ mixed with some ‘Frozen’ bits, because that’s what ‘Frozen’ is based on,” she said. “We got to a sixth draft, I think, and we’re still adding jokes here, right at the end.… We are really proud with how we have mixed the classic fairy tale with some new, modern takes.”
In this story, Lesa and sister Anna (Isabel Miller) clash as they navigate the difficulties of sisterhood. Anna gets engaged to her boyfriend, Gustaf (Juliet Logan), and Lesa, unwilling to be left behind, fights to keep her sister on her side as their lives begin to change.
Cast members come from across Metro Vancouver, including Connor Hogg (as Leif), Jodie Aguinaldo (Stacey), Jack Derrenbacker (Alexa), MJ Arden (Siri) and Michael Widman (Mayor Maynott), among others involved.
For the first time in three years, the panto can be staged in “normal” ways.
“We can do autographs again, hand out candy and go into the audience,” Weltzin said. “Last year was really nice to come back again because it’s such a tradition, and without (the panto) it doesn’t feel like Christmas to me. Last year we were very careful, and we still are, but we all wore masks and had understudies, and now it’s nice to kind of have the choice to wear masks, as opposed to having to wear them all the time. Just seeing facial expressions again is great. It’s going to be fun to interact with our audience again. We really missed having that connection.”
At Surrey Arts Centre, “The Snow Queen: A Frozen Adventure” runs from Dec. 16 to 26, with shows at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. on select dates, with a “relaxed” performance (for those with intellectual, behavioural or other challenges) on Dec. 22 at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets can be bought online at tickets.surrey.ca, or call 604-501-5566. A “regular” seat is $34.99, or $29.99 for those aged 60 and over and 12 and under. Group and family rates are also available. Details are also found on rctheatreco.com.
Meantime, White Rock Players Club’ Christmas pantomime “The Magic Flute: The Panto” runs until Dec. 23 at the Oceana PARC Playhouse, with a story loosely based on the 1791 opera.
Directed and written by Dianna Harvey, the show substitutes pop songs old and new – and some familiar musical theatre tunes – for Mozart’s operatic score, but also includes some of the composer’s original music, with a few new twists.
For tickets and info, visit whiterockplayers.ca/buytickets, or call 604-536-7535.
-with a file from Alex Browne