Steffanie Davis, who plays Belle, with a couple of the young actors in East Van Panto: Beauty and the Beast, at the York Theatre until Jan. 7. (photo by Emily Cooper, illustrations by Cindy Mochizuki)
Every year, the Cultch and Theatre Replacement’s annual panto, celebrating East Vancouver and poking fun at pop culture and local politics, seems to outdo itself. East Van Panto: Beauty and the Beast, which opened at York Theatre last week, is a rollicking good time that doesn’t sacrifice quality for fun. The text, music, sets, performance – everything is top-notch about this production that will have you cheering, booing, laughing, clapping … generally having a great time.
In the story by new-to-the-panto playwrights Jivesh Parasram and Christine Quintana, Belle, who dreams of studying business at the University of British Columbia so she can get the skills to bring wealth to her East Van neighbourhood, is captured by Beast, an arrogant young man from West Van who is turned into a mattress by Enchantress for his unbending attitude. The curse will not be lifted until this young man, who “won’t flip for nobody,” is able to change his mind – a prized ability in this production. Unfortunately, the curse extends to the staff and patrons of the Japanese food store into which the man had entered to buy some sushi. Transformed into such items as miso soup, soy sauce and various types of sushi, these innocents rely on Belle to save them – and herself – “before the last cherry blossom falls.”
Using physical humour and wittily riffing on pop songs like “Flower” by Miley Cyrus, “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys and “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics, the panto cast is led by Steffanie Davis as Belle and Jason Sakaki as Beast, both strong actors with fantastic singing voices, funky moves and excellent comedic timing. The supporting cast is equally as skilled, and they are, in turn, supported by first-rate creative, design and production teams. Anita Rochon directs the show, and Veda Hille is composer and musical director. Jewish community member Mishelle Cuttler, as assistant musical director, alternates nights with Hille at the keyboard.
East Van Panto: Beauty and the Beast is an ode to community. In this iteration, it highlights two decades-old local businesses, Fujiya Japanese Foods and Mr. Mattress, which are located across the street from each other, at Venables Street and Clark Drive. A highlight of opening night was meeting several folks from Mr. Mattress, a long-time advertiser in the Jewish Independent.
The panto runs until Jan. 7 in-person and on-demand online Dec. 18-Jan. 7. For tickets, visit thecultch.com/event/east-van-panto.