Sleeping Beauty – A Panto Awakening

The Curse of the Cell Phones

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Sleeping Beauty – A Panto Awakening, now on stage at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, has all the ingredients of a silly Christmas panto. But at the same time, the writers have included an indictment of the high prices cell phone companies charge in Canada. Strange topic for Christmas panto? 

I saw the “naughty” version first, and yes, there are risqué parts, ranging from erectile dysfunction jokes to too-tight short-shorts on a robot. Many racy and ribald comments are scattered throughout. But then I saw the “nice” (family-friendly) version, and guess what?  A lot of the bawdy jokes are still there, yet glossed over, in the hopes they will sail over the kids’ heads (and it appears they did). The short-shorts are exchanged for long pants. But the clever attack on cell phone companies is the premise in both versions, even though I doubt if any kids in the audience grasp the implications.

King (Trevor Martin) and Queen (Christy Bruce) Rogers (who are opposed to renaming Toronto’s baseball stadium The Skydome) adopt a baby. Apparently the King had spread his seed widely, as some royals in the past have been known to do. The female Court Jester (Carolina Santos Read) gives birth, and agrees to let the King and Queen adopt the baby girl. But the local Witch (Gabi Epstein) is angry when her Robot sidekick (Ian Simpson) informs her she wasn’t invited to the baptism. (Warning: Some people may find the baptism scene sacrilegious.) When she is shunned at the christening party, the Witch puts a curse on the baby girl. The little girl will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. The King and Queen ask for help in getting rid of spinning wheels. The solution is simple. Just put all spinning wheels inside cell phones. And that’s why we see a spinning wheel when we don’t have cell service! Princess Aurora (Tahirih Vejdani) is banned from ever seeing a spinning wheel, so she’s forced to live in the forest with a couple of crazy fairy godmothers (Simpson and HRH Anand Rajaram), a shy Sasquatch (Nathan Carroll), and no cell phones.

Fast forward 16 years and the Princess has a suitor – Prince Phillip Bell (Rajaram). The Queen thinks that the two should get together – after all, they could merge Rogers and Bell and have a giant cell phone monopoly. But the Princess sees the Prince’s phone and becomes completely mesmerized, never putting down a phone again, slipping into a coma-like state staring at the screen. To find out how the Witch’s curse is finally broken, you will have to get a ticket to the show. I’m not going to spoil how the romances turn out either.

The show is punctuated by various pop songs. “Uptown Girl”, “Money, Money, Money”, “Happy (Clap along)”, “This Kiss”, and “Eye of the Tiger”, among others. For the very youngest in the audience, there is “Baby Shark, do-do-do…”. My little granddaughter enjoyed the singing and dancing and applauded each number loudly.

In typical panto fashion, the audience is invited to join in the fun of booing the evil Witch, groaning loudly at the King who’s a terrible mansplainer, and yelling “Yeti, Yeti, Yeti” when the shy Sasquatch appears.

Gabi Epstein owns the stage as the Witch. She belts her songs perfectly with her powerhouse voice and runs the gamut of evil emotions. It’s also obvious she is having a lot of fun in the role. Capitol Theatre goers will remember her in 9 to 5 this past summer as Roz, the secretary so smitten with the horrible boss. The rest of the cast includes excellent singers with good comedic timing, making it an entertaining night out.

If jokes about farts and penis size break you up, then this is the show for you – well, the naughty version. If you want to take the kids out for some laughs, and you’re confident they won’t get the inappropriate innuendo, then you’ll enjoy the nice version. Either way, it’s all the fun of a traditional panto.

Sleeping Beauty – A Panto Awakening continues with performances for naughty and for nice (family/children version) at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope until December 23, 2022. Tickets are available at the box office by calling 905-885-1071 or visiting https://capitoltheatre.com/ .

Photo: Ian Simpson as BotBot the Robot and Gabi Epstein as Maleficent the Witch. Photo by Sam Moffatt.

Sleeping Beauty – A Panto Awakening
By Paloma Nunez and Kevin Whalen
Directed by Rob Kempson
Musical Direction and Arrangements by Scott Pietrangelo
Performed by Christy Bruce, Nathan Carroll, Gabi Epstein, Trevor Martin, HRH Anand Rajaram, Carolina Santos Read, Ian Simpson, Tahirih Vedani.
Capitol Theatre, Port Hope
November 25 to December 23, 2022
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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