by Lynn on December 4, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Elgin Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jeremy Diamond
Directed by Tracey Flye
Choreographed by Julie Tomaino
Set and Costumes by Michael Gianfrancesco
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Peter McBoyle
Projections by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson
Cast: AJ Bridel
Paul Constable
James Daly
Hilary Farr
Eddie Glen
Lisa Horner
Laurie Murdoch

The annual holiday family panto continues without Ross Petty to boo. A few bumps along the way, but the irreverence is solid as is the cast.

The Story. Jeremy Diamond’s script for Sleeping Beauty follows the original Grimm’s Fairy Tale loosely. A rather rancorous, black-clad woman named Malignicent is in a snit because she wasn’t invited by the king and queen of the kingdom, to a do for their baby Princess Rose, so Malignicent puts a spell on Rose. If Rose is pricked with anything sharp before she’s 18 she will fall into a deep sleep for ever or until she’s kissed by a prince. To prevent the pricking from happening Rose is kept in a plastic bubble right up until the day before her 18th birthday. Rose still functions in the world; she just rolls around to navigate. She loves Luke, the simple, green-haired lute player who is not a prince. Rose almost gets off prick-free but then disaster happens and it goes from there.

The Production. Michael Gianfrancesco has filled his set and costumes with vibrant colour. The dynamic projection duo of Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson have created a backdrop of constantly moving, flowing, dropping and floating colourful projections of birds, blobs, blooming roses, etc. that catch the eye. The kingdom is alive with light and colour. Malignicent’s domain on the other hand is grey and black which is what you would expect from a woman who is colour-challenged.

This is the first year without Ross Petty playing the villain entering to a torrent of boos; sneering at the audience then yelling “Shadddup”. Now we have Malignicent as the villainess, dressed in black sparkly long coat, slim pants and boots. She starts well. She makes every entrance in a burst of smoke and a cracking sound. She is played with a sneer by Hilary Farr. Her entrance results in the usual boos which she thinks is pretty paltry. “Is that the best you can do” she bellows directly to the audience? The audience boos better. Then Malignicent flips her long coat and exits. The audience boos louder.

Sadly that is the last she really plays to and engages with the audience. Now of course the danger is to copy Ross Petty’s way of engaging the audience, egging them on. But there are mixed messages here. Either we are to engage with Malignicent or we aren’t. Her entrance and her chiding the audience suggests that she will engage throughout. That she doesn’t is a missed opportunity. At times Ms Farr is a bit careful, tentative.

There is a taped segment of Ross Petty as Captain Hook that breathes fresh, funny air into the show. While there are topical references in Jeremy Diamond’s script, Ross Petty’s ‘appearance’ just seems that much brighter.

Director Tracey Flye and Hilary Farr are going have to come up with their own schtick to make this work. As it is, it seems like so many opportunities are lost, but then again, perhaps I am assuming her presence is to carry on the legacy of Petty.

I find Jeremy Diamond’s script to be weak. There’s a whole unfunny segment about a design competition in Act II that needs to be cut and/or rewritten so that it’s funnier. The topical humour could be better.

Eddie Glen as Egg among others seems to be the new star of the show. In the past he was the trusty side-kick to the villain. He seems to come into his own here—funny, genuine, engaging. Sparklebum is played by an irreverent Paul Constable.

As Rose AJ Bridel has spunk and tremendous charm. Her love is Luke the lute-player played by James Daly, who has a lanky boyishness that’s sweet. There is a lovely small moment where Luke knows he must wake Sleeping Beauty with a kiss but won’t because she didn’t give him permission. I love that modern note of respect. The rest of the cast is strong.

Comment. The audience does its part and boos and cheers where needed. Sleeping Beauty is not as strong a show as other years but this is obviously a transition year so attention must be paid to what works and what needs fixing.

Ross Petty Productions Presents:

Opened: Dec. 1, 2016.
Closes: Jan. 7, 2017.
Cast: 17; 8 men, 11 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 min. approx.

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