Snow White: The Panto

Written on July 31st, 2015

Chop, Chop, Woody!

One of the unfortunate things about going to theatre regularly is that it becomes increasingly difficult to find fresh comedy that amuses us.  Some shows are too predictable, others repeat old jokes, and some just aren’t funny.  Even worse, some cast members aren’t funny.  So the more shows I go to, (for example, I’m seeing five in seven days this week!) the less often I find myself laughing out loud.

Well, Snow White: The Panto, now at Playhouse II in Grand Bend, is a winner!  I was laughing out loud frequently on opening night.  While it has the predictable panto formula, the jokes are fresh and funny, with up-to-the-minute humour and political satire.  And even better, the cast is made up of actors who have great comedic timing.  Plus, they can sing and dance, too!

Pantos are billed as entertainment for the whole family.  The stories are kid-friendly familiar fairy tales, with some adult innuendo added to keep Grandma and Grandpa interested.  Well, some pantos I’ve been to in the past are too silly and just for kids.  Others have naughty jokes overtly aimed at adults, and you’re uncomfortable when the kids ask questions.  Snow White: The Panto has the perfect mix.  The adults are laughing at the current humour; the kids love the audience participation.Snow White panto

The story follows the familiar Snow White tale, but don’t come expecting to see the Disney version.  In this show, the prince who comes to the rescue is Justin of Timberlake!

Tim Porter is Woody, the woodsman, who also talks to the audience and ensures the kiddies are participating.  Each time he comes on stage the children are encouraged to yell out “Chop, chop, Woody.”  His enthusiasm is contagious, and he shows his penchant for improv when he invites the wee ones to join him onstage, which creates the opportunity for unknown and unplanned fun each performance.  He also delivers some of the corny puns:  he tells us he has an invention to cut four loaves of bread at once.  It’s a four loaf cleaver.

Sarah Higgins is the lovely Snow White, singing and dancing her way into the audience’s collective heart.  Jamie McKnight perfects deadpan humour as Prince Justin of Timberlake. He has the audience in gales of laughter with just one look at them, and can sing beautifully, including “Not Unusual”.  Higgins and McKnight offer a lively rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Jackie Mustakas plays Queen Diabolica with over-the-top evil.  She’s the one the kids love to hate:  She enters to a chorus of resounding boos.  And she asks for more, telling them she heard more boos at the Mike Duffy trial.  Mustakas’ stage skills are very evident as she sings and dances energetically at the same time, without missing a beat!

Justin Bott is hilarious as Nurse Tickle, filling the requisite and always funny role of a man playing a woman.  Jennifer Burke belts out tunes as the Blues Fairy and also acts as our rapping narrator and magic mirror.

Three of the little people who work in the diamond mine deserve special mention.  Stephanie Pitsiladis as Grumpy, Jake Wagner as Dopey and Eric Da Costa as Doc are all hilarious, providing physical comedy.  Pitsiladis’ singing and unique accent are perfect.  And a shout-out to the tap dancing horse, Avalanche, made up of Ashley Arnett and Jody Whitfield.

The members of the ensemble show their skills in the opening frozen-style ballet and throughout the show.  They are complemented by a very talented Children’s Chorus.

There is a great number where cast members suggest various careers one could have.  I can’t describe this routine; it has to be seen to be believed. Suffice to say, it takes perfect choreography or someone’s going to get hurt!

Not only do we get the Snow White story, but other fairy tales intrude from time to time.  We see the old woman who lives in a shoe with all her kids, and Little Red Riding Hood skips through.  At the Happy Ending finale, when Snow White and Prince Justin get married, her bridesmaids are Cinderella, Belle, and Jasmine!

Kudos to author Caroline Smith for finding the perfect balance of kid fun and adult humour.  Similarly, credit goes to director David Connolly for keeping that mix.

Making both children and adults laugh out loud at the same show is a special art form.

Snow White: The Panto continues with eight shows a week until August 29 at Huron Country Playhouse, Playhouse II, Grand Bend. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com

Photo: Jamie McKnight as Prince Justin and Sarah Higgins as Snow White with Ashley Arnett and Jody Whitfield as the horse Avalanche in Snow White: The Panto.  Photo by John Sharp.

Snow White: The Panto
By Caroline Smith
Directed by David Connolly
Choreographed by Gino Berti
Musical Direction by Scott Christian
Performed by Sarah Higgins, Tim Porter, Jamie McKnight, Jackie Mustakas, Jennifer Burke, Justin Bott, et al.
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse II, Grand Bend
July 29 to August 29, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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