Left to right, Josh Drebit, Donna Soares, Allan Zinyk and James Long in Cinderella: An East Van Panto. (photo by Emily Cooper)
If Canada wants to be an energy super power, it’s going to have to run some pipelines through some plays. Well, some pantos. Starting with Cinderella: An East Van Panto, now on at the York Theatre until Dec. 28.
As with the inaugural East Van Panto last year, which took Jack & the Beanstalk to strange and hilarious new heights, this Cinderella is only loosely based on the fairy tale. In this version, Ella – Cinderella is only a mean nickname given to her by her wicked step-hipsters (not a typo) – loses her mother in a tragic food truck accident. Her father directs his grief to improving safety standards and is awarded for his efforts with the Mike Duffy Food Truck Safety Award, or something along those lines. He falls in love with the Government of Canada representative who presents him the medal. Marriage soon follows, the father is offered a senatorship, which takes him to Ottawa, leaving his beloved Ella – played wonderfully as the straight man to everyone else’s wackiness by Donna Soares – in the hands of her stepmother.
In true panto fashion, Ella’s new family is played by Allan Zinyk as the matriarch and Josh Drebit and James Long as her sisters. As they order Cinderella about, the audience gets to boo every meanness, and cheer Cinderella’s every win. While Jewish community member Drebit ably pulls off the fishnets, his comedic talents really shine as Feral Cat. Drebit, Long (as Rat) and Dawn Petten (as Old Crow) are about as far away from Disney cartoon birds and other forest animals as one can get, but “the other vermin,” three young actors as mice, are absolutely adorable – and, in a panto, the audience is allowed to “ooh and ahh” at their cuteness.
Zinyk also plays bad guy Ronald Grump, costumed in a business suit and an awful wig that’s only marginally worse than that worn by the character’s inspiration, Donald Trump. King Grump decides to hold a ball (there are lots of ball jokes, FYI) to celebrate the opening of Grump Towers (plural, even though there’s only one). At the ball, there will be a beauty pageant – a speed-dating marathon, actually – to find a wife for his son, played by Petten channeling Justin Bieber. (Petten also plays the hippy narrator/canvasser, Len Til, to perfection.)
And this brings us back to pipelines, and the spills that the suit-wearing, hard-hatted forewoman notes “only happen in movies and on the news.” As the chorus (pipe)line is passing through Cinderella’s family home, sadly, there is a spill – a spill that Cinderella must clean up before she can go to the ball. With the help of her vermin friends and, in one of the funniest scenarios to be conceived, a vacuum-harmonica-playing David Suzuki (played by Zinyk, you have to see it to believe it) and her B.C. Ferry Godmother, the belle gets to the ball.
But does she marry her prince? You’ll have to go to the panto for the answer – and for all the witty, weird, Vancouver-specific humor, the inventive costumes (Cinderella’s gown appears like magic), the charming music, the fitting choreography, the inspired sets and props, the bold and beautiful backdrops.
With Cinderella, the creative team of playwright Charles Demers, musician Veda Hille and director Amiel Gladstone have improved on what was already an intelligent, silly, energetic, crowd-pleasing formula. The lead actors in this year’s production are joined by the very talented chorus of Bailey Soleil Creed, Sean Sonier (who rocks a tutu) and Alexandra Wever, as well as the children who share the roles of the mice.
If you’re wondering what to give that person on your Chanukah list who has everything, at least 99 percent of non-Grumps would enjoy this show. For times and tickets, visit thecultch.com or call 604-251-1363.