Michelle Gaetz as Pinocchio and Bryce Mills as Miss Ann Thorpe.

Michelle Gaetz as Pinocchio and Bryce Mills as Miss Ann Thorpe.

SIGHTLINES: Cast and crew bring Pinocchio panto to life

Show's appealing performers follow classic pantomime style

White Rock Players’ 58th annual traditional Christmas pantomime, Pinocchio, is a winner all the way.

It may not be the most extravagantly-produced show ever (Andrea Olund’s sets, aside from a couple of effective backdrops, are a little on the sparse side), but it’s a great evening (or afternoon) of family entertainment, made extra bright and colourful by excellent costumes (co-ordinated by Heather Maximea) and some first-class make-up (Joyanna Rode and Marlet Magnusson).

This is a show that works because everyone involved cares enough to give it their best. Pinocchio has heart and appealing performers who understand the idiom, and director Susanne de Pencier has kept it all focused and moving briskly, with a grand sense of fun.

A lot of credit must also go to club president and author Dave Baron, who – as well as stepping into the lead villain role of evil puppet master Scagliare with plenty of panache, and at short notice (fortunately, actor Martin Perrin seems to be making a good recovery from recent health problems) – just may have penned the perfect Players Club pantomime.

His Pinocchio doesn’t try too hard to impress with cleverness, but is pretty clever nonetheless; the gags are generally ‘groaners’ but win laughs, there’s an efficient storyline, some credible villainy, and clear moral messages about doing the right thing and not letting your friends down.

The show even manages to segue the setting from Italy to White Rock smoothly.

The traditional panto recipe is pretty closely adhered to here – songs and dances for chorus and solos and duos for all the principals, the charmingly chaste romance of principal ‘boy’ and girl, flashpots for magical entrances, even a schoolroom scene for the Dame and a costume change for the principals at the finale.

I suppose it might be possible, even at this late date, to be surprised by the cross-dressing conventions of the genre, or the fact that, while the wee ones are entranced by the fantasy, colour and knockabout nonsense, some of the humour, including political references, is aimed well over their heads to amuse the grown-ups.

But there’s nothing in Pinocchio to shock anyone who’s enjoyed any of the other 57 pantomimes in White Rock Players Club’s history, and certainly nothing that offended the sensibilities of happy children, parents and grandparents at the performance I saw. Indeed, I’ve seen and heard far more questionably ‘adult’ jokes in many G-rated animated movies at the multiplexes.

The cast, from principals to an agreeably all-ages chorus, can’t be overpraised for their contributions to the show.

As Pinocchio, Michelle Gaetz is everything one could ask of a principal boy – she sings tunefully and plays broadly, imbuing the cheeky puppet with tons of spirit, while conveying his moral dilemmas clearly and sympathetically enough to engage the attention of even the youngest children in the audience.

Melissa Paras, as Isabella, complements Gaetz’s performance admirably. She makes a winsome heroine – while supplying the necessary fire to tell Pinocchio off when he needs it – and her trained voice comes as a pleasant surprise in her solo number, My White Knight.

Jennifer Tiles and Elyse Raible are simply splendid as scene-stealing secondary villains Fox and Cat. Excellent character costumes and makeup work obviously help, but Tiles provides character aplenty as a wonderfully devious Fox, while Raible contributes her own charming twist to the somewhat goofier Cat.

Bryce Mills, as Miss Ann Thrope, is a great and suitably hideous Dame. He clearly understands every nuance of the broad comedy required, while being a strong enough personality to carry the responsibility of a role that is crucial to the success of a panto (and his torchy rendition of Etta James’ hit At Last is quite frightening).

As Ann’s inamorata, Admiral Horatio Sootblower, Ray Van Ieperen has plenty of opportunity to deliver his uniquely effective, twitchy style of comedy, as well as some funny zingers at the expense of a certain B.C. government corporation – and Ann and Horatio’s duet, The Wonderful Year We Fell In Love, is a genuine highlight, thanks in no small measure to another clever topical lyric by Tom Saunders.

Krystle Hadlow, as the more responsible of the Gemini Cricket twins who advise Pinocchio (a part also featuring Carly Miller in some performances) and Reilly Olexson, as the irresponsible one, contribute a delightful energy to the proceedings, and good singing in the duet Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).

Ryan Elliott, as The Fairy Godfather, succeeds in making his character’s Sopranos-Goodfellas schtick amusing, while Nigel Watkinson, as Gepetto, finds just the right note in delivering panto exposition and gentle pathos.

There’s the requisite pathos, too, in Melanie Minty’s performance as Isabella’s mom, a flower seller turned dancing puppet, and in Patte Rust’s appropriately sad characterization of the long-enslaved Old Puppet (a role played in alternating performances by Suzanne Benson).

Musical director Kerry O’ Donovan supplies a thoroughly professional touch with his keyboard accompaniments, while Lena Dabrusin contributes some serviceable movement for a largely non-dancing cast.

Pinocchio runs until Dec. 29 at Coast Capital Playhouse. For ticket information, visit www.whiterockplayers.ca or call 604-536-7535.