Here’s a look at three family-friendly theatrical offerings, all offering something for adults along with smaller audience members.
Young People’s Theatre/Snow White, adapted by Greg Banks, directed by Aurora Browne, Ada Slaight Stage, Nov. 21 to Jan. 7. Tickets here.
This Snow White, in a word, is adorable. It is also one where you can take your younger children as it is aimed at Grade One, but I’m sure the preteen crowd would find it very funny as well.
I happened to catch a school performance (Grades One and Two), and the vocal response from the children was deafening. They waved their hands in the air, and shouted out, and bobbed up and down in excitement. Their reaction to this Canadian premiere was adorable as well.
The premise is simple. Only two people show-up to put on the Snow White show, and so the two actors have to play all 14 characters — including all the dwarfs! Because most of the children seem to know the original story, they are able to follow along with this imaginative riff. The play, however, would be easy to understand, even if the Snow White story was unknown.
Two casts rotate through the run. The delightful actors I saw were YPT artistic director Herbie Barnes (most of the characters) and JD Leslie (mostly Snow White) who were breathless in their task. The alternate cast is Ken Hall and Amanda Cordner.
The heart of the show is the enthusiasm and energy of the actors, who sweep the children up in the ensuing madness. An additional fillip is that the male character is reluctant throughout, so the female character has to keep whipping him into shape. To add to the hilarity, the men are deliberately short, while the women are deliberately tall.
The director is Aurora Browne who understands comedy, given that she is a co-creator and star of CBC’s Baroness von Sketch Show. She brings the madcap nature of this Snow White front and centre.
Everything about Snow White is cute, including Brandon Kleiman’s forest set, Laura Gardner’s costumes (which includes fast changes of capes and hats), and Siobhan Sleath’s magical lighting. There are also a couple of songs thrown in for good measure.
As YPT says in its advert, the show suits ages 6 to 106.
Bad Hats Theatre & Soulpepper/Alice in Wonderland, adapted by Fiona Sauder, music by Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko, directed by Sue Miner, Young Centre, Dec. 10 to Jan. 7. Tickets here.
A couple of years ago, this play opened and closed on the same night as the pandemic closed in. It was streamed, thereafter, so you could say that this production is their maiden run.
Bad Hats Theatre is known for its immense imagination, creating original plays with original music, and performed by a company of excellent actor/singers. Their previous play, Peter Pan, was a knockout.
Adapter Fiona Sauder (who also is one of the actors) has taken a unique point of view. She begins in a schoolroom where Alice (Tess Benger) keeps asking questions, to the annoyance of all, including the teacher (Matt Pilipiak) who goes on to play the White Rabbit. Sauder’s focus would appear to be that we must not stifle the curiosity of children, and Alice’s journey through Wonderland reinforces that aspect.
All the famous characters are there, but are given modern touches, so the play is anchored in the world of today. The language, in particular, is colloquial, but this updating does not mask the depth. Each encounter presents a fresh set of questions. Sauder, in her adaptation, has also made the Cheshire Cat (Aisha Jarvis) Alice’s spirit guide, as it were, to help the journey along.
There are many, many clever staging touches, thanks to director Sue Miner and the company. The rolling school desks, for example, become many things. There are also four rolling lattice walls that also help create different scenographies. It’s interesting that the set design is credited to Bad Hats Theatre as a whole. Ming Wong’s whimsical costumes are delightful, as the Wonderland characters are created by layering different bits of outfits over the actors’ school clothes.
The Doak and Pokinko score is similar to the soft rock sound of the musical Rent, but is clever in propelling the story forward with the lyrics. Everyone in the company seems to play a musical instrument as well, and I lost count of just how many different hands hit the piano keys.
I don’t know just how the very young kids would react to this Alice, but the ones there on opening night seemed to be enchanted by the visual and musical aspects. In short, this Alice in Wonderland is sophisticated stuff, and adults will enjoy this theatre outing even unaccompanied by children.
In short, Bad Hats’ Alice in Wonderland is slick, polished and provocative.
Ross Petty Productions & Crow’s Theatre/Peter’s Final Flight, written by Matt Murray, co-choreographed and directed by Tracey Flye, Elgin Theatre, Dec. 2 to Jan. 7. Tickets here.
It’s sad to report that after 25 years, Peter’s Final Flight, The PAN-Tastical Family Musical! Is Ross Petty’s final kick at the can. There will be no more pantomimes with their fractured fairy tales for the kids, and double entendres and innuendos for the adults. The bad puns, the sly topical references, and hilarious commercials will be gone forever.
All the old favourite characters are here. Dan Chameroy in drag as the fairy Plumbum, Sara-Jeanne Hosie as the evil Helga (who took over the villain role from Petty when he retired from the stage several years back), Eddie Glen, the perpetual sidekick, as Smee, and, as a big surprise, Petty himself returns to the stage to a barrage of boos as Hook.
The fresh new faces are the very talented Stephanie Sy as Erika/Wendy and Alex Wierzbicki as Peter. The six member ensemble is crackerjack, and have to perform a host of different colourful characters. Director Tracey Flye has pulled out all the stops to produce an energetic and vibrant stage picture.
The story, such as it is, begins with a rehearsal of Peter Pan (directed by Petty) that goes wrong, as Plumbum whisks the actor Peter to Neverland to save it from danger. Hook, who has been eaten by the crocodile, has tasked his widow Helga with carrying out revenge for his death. The problem is that Peter is only an actor, and not the real Peter Pan.
This show, however, is going out with a bang. Michael Gianfrancesco’s set is drop-dead gorgeous — simply one of the most beautiful to ever hit the stage. Ming Wong’s costumes are equally sumptuous, while director Flye and co-choreographer Jennifer Mote have created stunning production numbers to the usual array of found music. Everything about this production is a class act, as if no money has been spared to produce this final hurrah.
The laughs from both the scripted and unscripted dialogue — of course there is improv and actors losing it on stage — are a mile a minute. The fun is absolutely infectious, with both children and adults as willing accomplices. Audience reaction in a Ross Petty pantomime is as important as the stage action. The boos for Helga and Hook seemed louder than ever.
There is going to be a big hole in December’s calendar next season, so that’s a good reason to catch Peter’s Final Flight.
Ross — we’re going to miss you.
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