december 2017 | Volume 162
Photo credit: Emily Cooper.
EAST VAN PANTO: SNOW WHITE & THE SEVEN DWARVES
by Mark Chavez
Music & lyrics by Veda Hille
York Theatre, 639 Commercial Dr.
Nov. 29-Jan. 6
www.thecultch.com or 604-251-1363
I hate to be a Grinch but I think it may be time for Theatre Replacement and The Cultch to put the East Van Panto on hiatus, or at least rethink it for 2018 to recapture what’s made it fresh, original, funny and a seasonal tradition at the York since 2013. Because other than Allan Zinyk’s comic brilliance, this year’s version is … well … dull.
It’s still a terrific idea, a panto-celebration of everything East Van. In this year’s edition Snow White (Ming Hudson), imprisoned in West Van by her evil fitness instructor stepmother (Zinyk), wishes “I could live in a place where it’s normal to be weird” and so escapes to the paradise of East Van, its phantasmagoric weirdness visually captured in Yvan Morissette’s brightly painted flats.
Hudson is sweet, and the ensemble (Chirag Naik, Amy Rutherford, Margaret Onedo, Evan Rein, Lil Robinson) is okay. The three actors who dance backup are particularly entertaining, as is Kimberly Stevenson’s choreography and the little kid who looks like ZZ Top. But writer Mark Chavez’s material is uninspired (an 80’s rock band, jokes about the census and Elizabeth May), and neither Anita Rochon’s direction nor any of the performances do much to lift it --
-- with the major exception of Zinyk, who has been with the East Van Panto from the beginning, and has consistently shown with his work here and with Carousel an unerring ability to be funny for kids and adults at the same time. He’s hilarious as the stepmother, manages to make a cawing crow articulate and comical, and performs a great rap. He’s true to his character and the material while embellishing both with quick asides and the ability to texturize his performance physically and vocally. It’s an enormous pleasure to watch him in action.
The music from Ben Elliott on keyboards and Todd Biffard on percussion is fun but I miss the presence of Veda Hille, whose compositions this year (as usual, a range of contemporary pop songs with altered lyrics) seem under-inspired.
The opening night audience still had fun. The kids know the panto drill (yay, boo, look behind you) and there are plenty of adult laughs of recognition to be had from local references. But once upon a time the East Van Panto was really special, a uniquely entertaining theatrical tribute to the community. My Christmas wish is that it be so again.
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