Sunday 7 December 2014

Kids & parents giggle galore at Cinderella antics

Background panto uptake : For the uninitiated, British pantomimes (or panto's in short) have nothing to do with the likes of Marcel Marceau playing dumb and using only hand gestures and facial expressions as his art. Not like the buskers one sees in San Francisco BART stations looking for all the world like statuesque harlequins or military generals or royalty. Until, unexpectedly, they twitch at you and you jump! and then toss them two-bits for the fun of it.

No, by way of redux from the preceding BLR review, here's what's up in this type of play : "The British tradition of pantomime is family entertainment designed for the Christmas / New Year's season. It's a blend of music, dance, slapstick, robust audience participation -- cheering the heroes, booing the villains -- sing-along, local political satire, unfunny puns in extremis, and cross-dressing actors (always key to the revelry). All of this is based ever-so-loosely on a fairy tale or a mix of fairy tales just to give the show a hook and the kids down front some familiar stuff to relate to." 

And "up" it is, whimsically so, at The Cultch's Commercial Drive venue the York Theatre where the troupe Theatre Replacement teams with Cultch to present its second annual "East Van Panto". As a 10-year Trout Lake resident a couple decades back, how could I not relate instantly to an EastVan-based Cinderella story that is set in a typical Fraser Street house : another quaint A-pitch knock-down shack like my old one. A story whose script is laced with endless quips about latte shops, sushi joints and yoga classes along The Drive. One that celebrates the district's countless funk'd up characters and alleyways and buildings besides. What's not to amuse from all this? And the show does, in spades. Just ask the kids. Or their parents.

Show takes off Moment #1 : Vancouver favourite music maven Veda Hille, the show's "Musical Director and Orchestra", kicks everything off hilariously with her synthesized piano and sung-out cell-phone / photo warnings in her opening "Hurrah!" to the audience. Quickly we meet The Slipper Ladies in ballerina tights mincing across the footlights with Studio 58's Sean Sonier in full baritone leading comrades Alexandra Wever and Bailey Soleil Creed in some kick-step. What the littlun's might have thought of such a sight who knows, but us big-kids cheered mightily. A show "letting it all hang out" was sure to follow, and did.

Cinderella was played capably for sure by Donna Soares, but her EastVan posse of chums and protectors could not help themselves stealing her thunder. Particularly Josh Drebit as Feral Cat and James Long as Rat who riffed off each other wonderfully throughout. They were aided and abetted by Dawn Patten as The Crow, all of whose ancestors were regular Trout Lake visitors in my time there. 

But reason alone to go see this silliness is Allan Zinyk in two principal roles -- Ella's evil stepmom and Ronald Grump (a Donald Trump knock-off) -- as well as his hilarious cameo as uber-environmentalist David Suzuki.

As Grump, Zinyk channeled Steve Van Zandt of The Sopranos fame (and long-time Springsteen guitarist) absolutely wonderfully. "The Donald's" hair he swirled around was a classic bit. Perhaps writer Charles Demers tried over-hard to make double entendre jokes about Grump's first of many, uh, balls, but that would be faint criticism indeed. 

The balance of Demers' script clicked off well -- a clever jogger's clip of one-liner's and sight gags. As Prince Grumpy, cross-dressed Dawn Petten had great fun chasing Cinder Ella and dissing step-sisters Drebit and Long. Long's fairy godmother (in an outrageous B.C. Ferries boat get-up) was a goofy gag that nevertheless worked. 

The jokes pile on top of one another. The whole show is set "in the shadow of Bob Rennie", Vancouver's hyper condo-marketer. A late arrival prompts the comment "You took longer to get here than a correction in the real estate market!" References to long-dead east-side nite club venues like The Town Pump and Luv Affair are made, also a campy bit of Kinder Morgan pipeline choreography featuring Ms. Patten in a Christie Clark hardhat. (The whole house Boo'd! mightily at the pipeline people, of course, particularly when CC noted, ditzily : "Pipeline spills happen only in the movies, and the news..."). Always hip-east-of-Main Street lines abound. Some shots cross over to the West Side, as in "It's difficult to find a well-dressed person in this town -- even the mayor wears Crocs!" 

Production values galore : Director Amiel Gladstone succeeds in getting both the pro's and the amateurs to shake their booty together well-in-step with Choreographer Tracey Power's fancy footwork. Set Designer Pam Johnson managed to hook up with EastVan painter Laura Zerebeski as her Scenic Illustrator. Zerebeski describes her jaw-dropping & brilliant visuals thus : 

"I am (an) expressionist painter with a surrealist edge. I paint urban landscapes and personify buildings so they look like the people that live in them. As an avid runner and cyclist, I want to portray what you feel when you move through a scene. The vivid colours and implied instability create a whimsical and cheerful view...when the ordinary becomes absolutely beautiful due to whatever effects of light or season or one's own mood."

N.B. Most notable : her stage-wide screen of a back alley depicting a '75 orange VW Westphalia camper blocked up on a plastic dairy carton box collecting moss on its off-kilter pop-up roof. That graphic could have been taken from our 19th Avenue back yard back in the day. We retired just such a relic in just that colour to ferment just so after years of our beloved "BOB" [bright orange bus] carting us and our bikes up and down Cascadia's shoreline.

Remarkable, too, were Marina Szijarto's costumes : funky, campy, silly, snappy and visually grabby. They complemented Zerebeski's lavish set paintings wonderfully. 

Previously mentioned musical director Veda Hille blended some delightful recall moments into the Demers script with snatches from Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" to "Making It Work" and "Too Bad" from local faves the late Doug Bennett and his Slugs to "Dancing With Myself" by Billy Idol and "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor, also Rihanna's continual reprise of "Umbrella" ["ella, ella, ella, ella"] among others. Hille's work is never to be missed. 

Who gonna like : The York Theatre retro-fit for live stage is a marvel. Better leg-room and soda pop holders you'll find nowhere. It's intimate and cozy and perfect for Grump to throw out gold-covered chocolates (Warning : "May or may not contain nuts!") all the way up into the balcony. Anyone who ever ventures East of Main to go get their Italiano fromage or extra virgin olive oil or grab some spaghetti at local icon Nick's next door to The York or slurp a muggajava at Joe's up the street or relish a prego sandwich with some Euro soccer @ PCOV will surely relate to this decidedly East Van Panto. But even Point Grey privileged types like Mayor Greg or Lululemon's Chip Wilson will find lots to laugh about and cheer and boo and clap at here. Fun fun fun! for all.

Particulars : Until December 28. Check for showtimes and seating at The York venue, 639 Commercial Drive.

Production Team :  Playwright : Charles Demers. Director & Dramaturge : Amiel Gladstone. Producer, Theatre Replacement : Peter Boychuk. Musical Director & Orchestra : Veda Hille. Sound Designer : Kris Boyd. Choreographer : Tracey Power. Sets & Props Designer : Pam Johnson. Scenic Illustrator : Laura Zerebeski. Costume Designer : Marina Szijarto. Lighting Designer: Adrian Muir.  Stage Manager : Jan Hodgson. 

The actors : Josh Drebit. James Long. Dawn Petten. Donna Soares. Allan Zinyk. Bailey Soleil Creed. Sean Sonier. Alexandra Wever. Feliz Ardal. Uki and Fumiko Enns. Naomi Fota. Olive Knowles. Anders Hille Kellam. Eleanor Mishna-Chauve. Nora and Hazel Pontin. 


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