This year was our third year attending a Ross Petty Productions performance, and while we’re relatively new to the yearly holiday tradition, it’s already become one everyone in the family looks forward to. Many families have been in on the fun since the pantomime’s first production at the Elgin Theatre 21 years ago, but newcomers are just as welcome. They’ll enjoy the comedy and music as much as theatre-goers who are familiar with how Ross Petty and his cast and crew work. In typical fashion, Ross Petty’s Sleeping Beauty is outrageous fun and makes no apologies for it.
The show take jabs at current political situations, social norms, and pop culture references; there are contemporary and older songs reworked to suit the storylines, and a re-imagined take on fairy tales that entertains across the generations. Panto invites the audience to be in on the joke, usually at the expense of other characters that are purposefully left out. Booing and cheering are encouraged, and almost required to move the story along. This is what makes this type of theatre experience a great one to attend as a family: we all get the jokes, albeit at different levels.
Ross Petty and his cast know how to entertain and keep audiences laughing or groaning. This year we saw a woman — Hilary Farr — cast as Malignicent, the villain in Sleeping Beauty, as Petty stepped off centre stage, while a new, bumbling good fairy-godmother-in-training — Paul Constable as SparkleBum — took over for PlumBum. I wondered if the new villainess and good guy/fairy could be as entertaining as Petty and Dan Chameroy (PlumBum). No worries, they were.
A few days leading up to the show, we took bets on how many political references they’d include (and then forgot to count), how many shout-outs to the show’s sponsors there’d be with a wink wink nudge nudge about endorsements (ALL product placements and endorsements should be like this), whether or not the cast would keep a straight face throughout the evening (they didn’t), and how they’d turn Sleeping Beauty on its ear and make it long enough and funny enough for a live audience.
My son calls Sleeping Beauty the shortest, most uninteresting fairy tale in the history of fairy tales. Girl is born, has a spell put on her, pricks her finger, goes to sleep, is kissed awake, the end. I get his point. ba-dum-tss
The production company joined forces this season with Sleep Country (one of its sponsors and star of a tongue-in-cheek commercial during the show) for the Give a Kid a Coat campaign. Guests can drop off gently used or new coats at the theatre on the night of the show.
What made it especially entertaining this year, besides inclusions of current topics like consent, were the 80s references. I live with a teenager who’s a fan of all things 80s: TV shows, clothes, the music. His favourite current show is set in the 80s – Stranger Things – and he (and I) loved the embedded Canadian Tire commercial/shout-out to the show using Christmas lights. Besides that, there was homage to the SCTV character, Ed Grimley, and enough music from the era to keep those of us who were teens during the 80s and our kids, humming along.
I loved looking down the row of seats and seeing my kids laughing, booing, and singing along during a production. And they weren’t the only ones. I heard rousing back-up singing to Hedley songs from a talented pre-schooler sitting behind me, and saw grandparents cheering even louder than their grandkids when SparkleBum got something right. Sorry, SparkleBum, but you have a ways to go.
As my kids get older all I want is more time with them, and not the kind where I’m hanging onto their legs begging them to talk to me or awkwardly insinuating myself into a teen tête-à-tête. Real time that we all enjoy – it’s possible! To make this together time, we’ve kept up and created traditions: movie nights, cut-down-a-living-tree-and-decorate-it days, and now live panto nights. Since we’ve made going to watch a Ross Petty production part of the holidays, they’ve never balked at joining us for a night on the town. They look forward to it as much as we do. I’ll hang on to that as tight as I can.
The show runs from now until January 7, 2017 at the Elgin Theatre with tickets ranging from $27-$99. While you’re busy grabbing moments with your family, you can help someone in need with the gift of a coat. It’s a win for everyone; even Malignicent and her dark heart would approve.
Life in Pleasantville and Ross Petty Productions have teamed up to send one family on a sleepover on January 7, 2017 at The Toronto Hilton after they catch Sleeping Beauty! Approximate retail value of prize $450. Enter below to win! Open to Canadian residents only, transportation and additional expenses not covered. Not transferrable and has no cash value. Contest closes December 15th, 2016.
* Disclosure: My family and I were invited to the show this year, but I’d go back on my own and invite my nieces and brothers and friends to enjoy it too. As a bonus for Life In Pleasantville readers, use the code FANTASY to purchase tickets for $59.