Cinderella, opening at Surrey Arts Centre Friday, is guaranteed to be a welcome interlude in the hectic Christmas schedule – a family-oriented oasis of all the colourful costumes and sets, cheery players, antique schtick and groaner gags for which pantomime is known.
But it’s also a milestone for its creator, Ellie King, managing artistic director of the Royal Canadian Theatre Company.
It’s been 25 years since King – a veteran of British panto productions from childhood – staged her first Canadian version, Sinbad the Sailor, at Vancouver’s Metro Theatre in 1988.
Since then, the Christmas pantomime tradition – once almost exclusively based in White Rock – has caught on with theatre companies throughout the Lower Mainland, and King’s own original scripts have been licensed and performed all over B.C.
A passionate aficionado and champion of a theatrical entertainment that traces its direct roots back more than 400 years (but draws on traditions dating back to Greco-Roman times) King knows not only what goes into the panto recipe but why and when it was added to the mix.
She doesn’t expect audiences, however, to get all the history behind the Irish stew of fairytale, song and dance and masques and harlequinades of centuries gone by.
All that’s really required is that they sit back, relax and be entertained by a keen troupe of entertainers from virtually all the Lower Mainland municipalities.
This year’s show – which runs in Surrey Dec. 20-29, then goes on to usher in the new year at the ACT Theatre, Maple Ridge (Jan. 2-5) – is a panto perennial.
“Cinderella is the most popular pantomime of all the pantomimes, above all others – there are literally hundreds of them,” King said, adding this marks the third production of her version (following shows in 1998 and 2007).
“I don’t know quite why – maybe it’s the rags-to-riches element – making good and beating the odds.
“It’s also the only panto that has two ‘dames’ in it – and, occasionally, three,” she said, referring to the hard-done-by Cinders’ eternal nemeses, her wicked stepmother and two less-than-appealing stepsisters – usually played, in panto tradition, by men in absurdly over-the-top drag.
“Sometimes the stepmom is played by a man, too, but two men and a woman (RCTC regular Kerri Norris as Grimelda Stoneybroke) playing in combination I think is the best.”
Appearing as sisters Atrocia and Deplorabelle are RCTC favourite Alan Cedargreen and newcomer Mark Manning.
“He’s very, very good,” noted King. “Very front and centre.”
Other regulars of King’s panto stock company on hand are King’s husband, Geoff, as musical director; keyboardist with percussionist Sheila Rebelato; Norris’ husband, Stephen Elcheshen, reprising his role as Buttons the page, who’s Cinders’ only human friend (two young Elcheshens, daughters Aeron and Cayleigh are also in the cast); and King’s son, James, in his accustomed role as the Demon King, representative of the forces of evil.
Ready to battle him for supremacy is Erin Coon – last year’s principal boy in Robinson Crusoe – as the Fairy Godmother.
Coon won King’s approbation by heeding the director’s advice that the fairy is also a “tough broad.”
“She came out to audition with a Jersey accent,” King laughed.
Playing the title role is Melissa Paras, seen to advantage as principal girl in last year’s White Rock pantomime, Pinocchio.
“She’s a very nice soprano – a musical theatre grad from Capilano College. She’s adorable and quite funny, too – more Disney than Disney.”
Jeremy Glass, last year’s King Neptune, is back as Cinderella’s befuddled father, Baron Stoneybroke, while the show’s two girl-boys, Prince Charming and his major domo Dandini are played by Andie Francis and Jackie Bruce.
Other historic traditions linger in King’s version, including an exchange that’s been in versions of show since the 19th century (“Your foot wouldn’t fit in the crystal slipper!” “Your foot wouldn’t fit in Crystal Palace!”) and the transformation scene at the end in which principals sport resplendent finale costumes (“it’s the only remaining piece of the Harlequinade,” King noted).
But other elements are right up to date, she adds – including topical gag lines that are always a popular part of pantomimes.
“Obviously we’re going to hit Rob Ford, and Stephen Harper and the Senate scandal – and the current state of the roads.”
For more, visit www.rctheatreco.com