Sunday 6 December 2015

Hansel & Gretel family fun @ EastVan Panto

Refresher on panto's :  By way of redux from last year's two pantomimes seen : 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, all about cheering the heroes, booing the villains -plus- lots of sing-along tunes, local political satire, unfunny puns and cross-dressing actors (always a prime key to the revelry). Panto's are based ever-so-loosely on a fairy tale to give the seasonal show a storyline the kids down front can relate to. 

For the 3rd year running, Theatre Replacement teams with the Cultch to do its annual EastVan Panto at the York on The Drive. It's a rocking rollicky cut at Hansel & Gretel that is set in that vast unfamiliar territory from a land far, far away -- Stanley Park, some 10 kx west of where our home was for almost a decade -- Trout Lake. Returning principals from last year, Alan Zinyk and Dawn Petten, drive the laughs with lusty good cheer once again in a show that had kids of all ages cheering and laughing and booing and clapping with abandon.

Home base hooks :  Riffing on all things Vancouver-esque, the kids' dad and evil step-mom are, or were, foody bloggers. Until their ever-sarcastic reviews caused the Sandwitch restaurant to close its doors, after which the witches convinced every eatery in town to boycott them and their blogsite With "no free lunch" now literally true, they need to ditch H&G in order to have two fewer mouths to have to feed, just like in the Brothers Grimm original overture from 1812. 

As they sneak away from the kids in the middle of Lord Stanley's 1,000 acres of frightful west end wilderness, stepmom nudges dad : "Let's make like a crowd at a Canucks game and resentfully trudge home...". To help the kids fall asleep, H&G first are given some strata council minutes to pore over, followed by a tome containing "demographic polling data on the recent transit plebiscite". These are classic panto routines, lots of local references that a visitor from even nearby Point Roberts likely as not wouldn't get. 

High-cost of Vancouver real estate? Check : "It's just a detached house in Vancouver, nothing to obsess over!" coupled with one or two references to the recent high housing cost protests from which the hash-tag #donthaveamillion sprang up overnight like an EastVan mushroom. Politics? Check : "We're lost in the wilderness!" Hansel wails to Gretel. "Now you know how Thomas Mulcair feels," Gretel responds. Hansel continues : "I've failed us completely !" "Now you really know how Thomas Mulcair feels!" she says consolingly. 

Musical underlay ties it all together : Once again Musical Director & Composer Veda Hille reveals a witty and capacious grasp of musical genres in putting together the 27 songs that she on keyboards and percussionist Barry Mirochnick slip gleefully among : everything from "Wilkommen" from Cabaret to the Gilligan's Island theme song to R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" to "West End Girls" by Pet Shop Boys &c. &c, "Silver Bells" re-written with nonsense lyrics such as "Platypus, obstreperous" replacing the song's eponymous refrain line that the crowd joins in on. 

Production values galore : Playwright Charles Demers started piecing together this year's script way back in January last year. Through trial-&-error, workshopping and constant review, quips were thrown in, re-written, deleted, replaced. Only one sort of untimely clanger in the piece, reference to a situation "as inescapable as a Roberto Luongo contract". But that's wee criticism indeed. 

What makes EastVan Panto such a full-house draw show-after-show is, quote, "the usual suspects" that most live theatre try to round up : wizard acting talent, canny choreography, dashing sets & costumes. Well check, check, check & check again this year. 

EastVan painter Laura Zerebeski was commissioned once more to do the primary set paintings under the watchful eye of 11-time Jessie winner Set & Properties Designer Drew Facey. Primary backdrop screen is a whimsical winter take on the giant EastVan cross by artist Ken Lum that's lit up, all 19.5 metres of it, at the top of Great Northern Way & Clark Drive. It looks down at the Burrard Inlet longshore davits and out at the North Shore mountains and Lion's Gate beyond. (See Addendum.) The stacked leaning tower of droopy egg cartons in Witch's kitchen were a delight, as was the giant pizza oven in the shape of a face with its mouth agape, a first-rate mock-up of the real thing at Marcello's restaurant up The Drive.

Zerebeski's roguish and witty eye was aided and abetted capably indeed by Costume Designer Marina Szijarto. Her over-the-top creations for Allan Zynik as both evil stepmom and evil witch of Stanley Park were campy and droll. The "frightful wild creatures" in the Park -- a skunk, a racoon, and a squirrel -- were done equally well for the "senior" animals (Lillian Doucet-Roche, Caitlin Goruk, and Carly Pokoradi) as for the identical "junior" costumes worn by the charming ingenue Panto kids (some 15 Panto kids in all involved at various times with the show).

Still and all, what has to be foremost in any performance is what is done with and by the actors. Director Stephen Drover corralled multi-talented Tracey Power to do the fancy footwork for the show, and with Hille's help they pull the cast and the plot and the one-liners and the music and the by-play with the audience together. Special mention again of Zynik in each of his twin-evil masques, but Dawn Petten is an artful and nifty Hansel for sure. Good turns both by the other principals as well, Maiko Yamamoto (a Theatre Replacements founder) and Josue Laboucane.

Who gonna like : A good half-the-house at Sunday's matinee was a cadre of littlun's, many of primary school age. A lot of them in clumps with their parents and grandparents, and as noted above, all of them (us) "cheering and booing and laughing and clapping with abandon." I remarked to my wife on the way home how delightful it was to be in a house packed with young children fully engaged in the spectacle before them. Charming choice lyrical escapism that even folks from west of Main Street will enjoy thoroughly, almost as much as we who think of EastVan as the true heart-&-home of this city. 

Particulars :  Produced by Replacement Theatre [Producer Corbin Murdoch] in collaboration with The Cultch.  At the York Theatre,  639 Commercial Drive, right next to Nick's old-time Italian pastapizzaria. On thru January 3rd. Run-time some 120 minutes with intermission. Box office 604.251.1363 -or- via the internet at 

Production team :  Playwright Charles Demers.  Director Stephen Drover.  Musical Director, Composer Veda Hille.  Choreographer Tracey Power.  Set & Poperties Designer Drew Facey.  Costume Designer Marina Szijarto.  Lighting Designer Adrian Muir.  Scenic Illustrator Laura Zerebeski.  Stage Manager Jan Hodgson.  Assistant Director Katrina Darychuk.  Apprentice Stage Manager Ruth Bruhn.

Orchestra :  Veda Hille.  Barry Mirochnick.

Performers : Josue Laboucane.  Dawn Petten.  Maiko Yamamoto. Allan Zinyk. With Lillian Douce-Roche.  Caitlin Goruk.  Carly Pokoradi. 

Panto Kids :  Eva Andrade-Gingras.  Maya Dance-Thomson.  Yuki Enns.  Fumiko Enns.  Sascha Gibbs-Pearce.  Anders Hille-Kellam. Olive Knowles.  Nasja MacRae.  Felix MacDuff.  Sophie Oldham.  Nora Pontin.  Hazel Pontin.  Kiyo Roth.  Mateo Sallusti.  Cooper Thompson.

Addendum :  Laura Zerebeski describes her jaw-dropping and 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."


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