Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto

Bring the Grandkids or Grab the Neighbour’s Kids

Playwright Caroline Smith continues to use her winning formula for panto writing, and another hit is on stage at Playhouse II in Grand Bend.  If you don’t recognize Smith’s name, well, perhaps you didn’t study her in your high school drama class.  Nevertheless, this is the fourth hit show she has brought to Grand Bend’s stage.  You may remember her previous panto favourites – Snow White in 2015 with Chop, Chop Woody; Aladdin in 2016 with Splish, Splash Wishy; and Cinderella in 2018 with Hi, Hi Buttons.

This year, it’s Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto that has the kiddies squealing with laughter and the adults chuckling, too.  And Drayton has found the right cast to fit the panto format.  Everyone’s favourite is back – Tim Porter who brought us Woody, Wishy, and Buttons is now Simon.  He asks the kids to yell out “’S’up, Super Simon!” much to their delight.  Kids also love the opportunity for audience participation, particularly the loud boos for the villain.

Smith also has a knack for putting a twist in the tale.  She takes the fairy story and makes it her own.  What I like about these pantos is the fact that they are not Disney.  Children should know that Walt Disney didn’t actually write these stories, and there are other versions out there.  (Not that I have anything against Disney’s adaptations – they are great, too.)

In this story, Jack isn’t the dummy who gets swindled out of a cow.  He just loves the tap-dancing Holstein.  (And yes, it is a Holstein, not a Jersey as was stated in a joke.)   But he also falls in love with Princess Buttercup.  (And yes, the story ends in a wedding, as usual – we can never get enough of silly love stories.)  Spoiler Alert: There is also a nod to The Wizard of Oz – we find out that there is no real giant, just a “humbug” behind a curtain pretending to be a giant.

The corny jokes abound.  When the characters are talking about the people in their village, the Village People appear, singing YMCA.

Of course, Porter shines when he brings the wee ones from the audience up on stage, and interviews them.  He asks the important questions like what is your family doing about single use plastics?  He also teaches them a great little song with some tricky wording.  After the opening performance, one of his stage prodigies pointed at Porter and said “He tricked me!”

Aaron Walpole is perfect as Evilus Maxiumus, urging the children to boo louder.  He belts out rock tunes like “Bad to the Bone” with his powerful voice.   Justin Bott is gorgeous as the Widow Twaddle singing “Dancing Queen” and tossing off the wisecracks with perfect comedic timing.  Ben Chaisson as Jack and his love interest Mariah Campos as Princess Buttercup delight adults and kids alike, singing Despacito.  Both are funny and adorable.

Karen Wood is charming as Mother Nature and makes a perfect narrator of the tale.  Sheldon Davis gets laughs as the Town Crier with the quiet voice, while Curtis Sullivan is excellent as King Buttercup.  The six ensemble members breeze through the challenging choreography, and the children’s chorus fills the stage with activity.

Credit goes to Director/Choreographer David Connelly for getting the maximum laughs from this very funny cast.  The kids love the corny jokes and silly action, and especially the chase scene through the audience.  But there is also enough naughty innuendo to keep the adults giggling.  So if you don’t have kids or grandkids of your own, grab the neighbour’s kids and get to the panto.

Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto will be on stage at Playhouse II, Grand Bend until August 31.  Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com

Photo: Left:  Justin Bott as Widow Twaddle, Ben Chiasson as Jack, and Tim Porter as Super Simon.  Right:  Mariah Campos as Princess Buttercup and Ensemble with the Children’s Chorus.   Photos by David Delouchery.

Jack and the Beanstalk – The Panto
By Caroline Smith
Directed & choreographed by David Connolly
Musical Direction by Nico Rhodes
Performed by Justin Bott, Mariah Campos, Matthew Chenuz, Ben Chaisson, Sheldon Davis, Sam DiGiuseppe, Heather Kosik, Tyler Pears, Tim Porter, Kristen Pottle, Sash Striga, Curtis Sullivan, Aaron Walpole, Karen Wood.
Drayton Entertainment Production
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
August 8 to 31, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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