It’s a Magic Carpet Ride
The key to a good panto is to engage the kids, and give the adults plenty of laughs, too. After all, those kids can’t drive themselves to the theatre, so the panto must also entertain mom and dad and grandma and grandpa. Aladdin – The Panto, now on stage at Playhouse II in Grand Bend, certainly does that.
The children in the audience have fits of giggles at the silly goings-on, while there are just a few slightly naughty jokes to entertain the adults. And if it’s all done right, the naughty jokes will sail right over the kids’ heads.
There is also a short nostalgia trip thrown into the mix. Aladdin summons a genie with a magic ring – and we hear the music of the sixties sit-com “I Dream of Jeannie”, and a Barbara Eden look-alike Jeannie appears. Also on the nostalgia trip is the 1968 Steppenwolf hit song “Magic Carpet Ride” which Aladdin and Jasmine sing while – what else? – riding the magic carpet. Modern music is included, too: unexpectedly, we hear Meaghan Trainor’s All About that Bass, Pherrell Williams’ Happy, Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off and others! The songs are cleverly tied into the plot.
Canadian panto writer Caroline Smith has written this family show with something for everyone. She was also the author of the Snow White panto which was performed at Playhouse II last summer. You’ll recognize her style, as well as some of the favourite characters. She mixes silly puns and clever rhymes for the kids with current satire for the adults. Director/choreographer David Connolly makes the most of Smith’s witty script.
Jamie McKnight returns as the panto hero, Aladdin, a role similar to the part of the Prince that he played in the Snow White panto last summer. McKnight has perfected understated, dead-pan humour bringing many laughs to his portrayal of Aladdin.
Tim Porter carries on the fun as Aladdin’s side-kick Wishy-Washy. (His mom owns a laundromat, he tells the audience.) The kids love calling out “Splish-Splash Wishy” each time he appears. Porter was Chop Chop Woody in the Snow White panto last year, and you can hear children’s whispers of “Woody!” when he first appears on stage. Porter also has the job of ad-libbing with the kids he invites up with him. Invariably they give him hilarious answers to his questions and he keeps the laughter rolling.
Aiden DeSalaiz plays Aladdin’s mom, the Widow Twankey. She runs a carpet emporium, and flirts with all her male customers. DeSailez brings both amazing energy and comedy to this zany character. Justin Bott is perfect as his evil wizard. He gets the kids in the audience booing and hissing each time he appears, and they love to hate him. Bott also cleverly steps in and out of character, reminding us that we are all sitting in a theatre, creating laughs.
This panto is graced with two genies. Sarah Higgins is excellent as the Genie of the Ring, reminding everyone over 50 of “I Dream of Jeannie”. She also narrates the story, filling in the plot along the way. Michael De Rose is hilarious as the Genie of the Lamp. He brings not only a bit of Elvis impersonation to the role, but several other voices as well. De Rose does double duty as the Sultan (Jasmin’s father ) in the opening scenes. Michelle Bouey is the beautiful and sweet Jasmine befriending Wishy and charming Aladdin.
The entire ensemble excels in the song and dance numbers, and two rotating Children’s Choruses have impressive dance moves as well.
Costumes are colourful with plenty of sparkles and sequins for the Sultan and Wizard. Widow Twankey of the carpet emporium has an impressive carpet-like dress.
Having seen this show last November in St. Jacobs, I am giving credit to director David Connelly for tweaking the story and tightening up the action. The plot seemed to flow a little better in this 2016 version, and kudos to the previous and new cast members for bringing it all together.
Order tickets as soon as possible as this family entertainment will sell out quickly. Round up the neighbourhood kids and have some fun. With the ever-popular Mamma Mia on the Main Stage at the Playhouse, bring the family and make it a two show day.
Aladdin – The Panto continues with eight shows a week until September 3 at Playhouse II in 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, Tim Porter and Company. Photo by John Sharp, Sharp Images.
Aladdin ~ The Panto
By Caroline Smith
Directed and Choreographed by David Connolly
Musical Direction by Marion Abbott
Performed by Justin Bott, Michelle Bouey, Rachel Clark, Michael De Rose, Aiden DeSalaiz, Christine Desjardins, Jason Franco, Sarah Higgins, Jamie McKnight, Luke Opdahl, Tim Porter, Jake Wagner, Robin Warwick. Produced by Drayton Entertainment
Playhouse II at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
August 11 to September 3, 2016
Reviewed by Mary Alderson