By Guest Diva Courtney Henry
GRAND BEND – An enchanted tale of magic and romance, good overcoming evil, and some harem pants. That is what I expected walking into Huron Country Playhouse II on the opening night of Aladdin the Panto. I also was looking forward to comedy, music and dancing of the highest calibre. I was not disappointed.
The classic tale of Aladdin is one of intrigue and magic. A poor young boy named Aladdin is enlisted by an evil sorcerer to retrieve a lamp from a cave. He does so. His life is changed forever after unleashing a powerful and funny genie. He meets the princess of his dreams and learns that wealth and power are not the most important things in life; love and kindness are.
If you have never had the opportunity to take in this traditional form of British theatre known as the pantomime the short explanation is that pantos were traditionally performed during the Christmas season as a family friendly outing. They incorporate song, dance, comedy, audience participation, and mildly suggestive innuendo (for the parents, I presume). I have had a dear love for panto since my mother videotaped a production of Ross Petty’s Cinderella with Karen Kane and I watched and re-watched it as a young child. I have since had the fun of seeing three live pantos with my children, an opportunity not to be missed. It’s a lovely thing to watch a child immersed in a live theatre production and yelling out direction to the characters.
I was very excited to take in this panto and enjoy a night of fun.
The production, directed and choreographed by David Connolly, opened and I found myself whisked into a fairy tale world of Arabian nights and magical mysticism. As the music built black-lit puppets danced across the stage and used the talent of the younger performers quite well. There is a special thing I like about these pantos at Drayton: they have a young children’s chorus who dance and perform numbers with skill and youthful joy. This chorus was well utilized in dancing the puppets along, keeping my interest in the group numbers.
From the moment our villain Abanazza (played by Justin Bott) stepped onto the stage to open a scene I was enthralled. He was everything you want in a panto villain; engaging yet slightly creepy, funny yet evil, and he walked triumphantly off stage to boos and hisses (a great sign of prowess for a panto villain). At intermission I asked the young boy sitting next us what his favourite part was so far and he answered “the part with Pokemon Go!” Our dear villainous Abanazza made sure to inform us that the box office was a Pokestop, a big highlight for my young seat mate!
As the story unfolded I found myself laughing, singing along with Jasmine (Michelle Bouey), Aladdin (Jamie Mcknight), Genie of the Ring (Sarah Higgins), and shouting out boos, hurrahs and directions at appropriate moments. The children around me (and most adults) took absolute delight in hollering at the characters as they arrived on stage or needed assistance in finding something. I loved a point near the end where our audience liaison Wishy Washy (Tim Porter formerly of Doodle Bop fame), picked three children from the audience for an interview and sing along.
In every panto I have seen there is a dame, and this one was no exception. The Dame is the comedic role of audaciousness and shameless sexuality and is almost always played by a man. In this case, it is Widow Twanky (Aiden DeSalaiz), who plays Aladdin’s mum. She brought in quite a bit of humour, some incredible wardrobe, and a lot of fun, especially when set opposite the all powerful Genie of the Lamp (Michael De Rose) who found her feminine wiles enticing and exciting.
If you are looking for a fun, family friendly, musical kind of outing, Aladdin will suit you to a T. I left smiling, and intend to bring my young son to enjoy this impressive performance before it comes to an end Sept. 3.
Tickets, $44 regular, $36 preview, $26 youth under 20, are available by calling the box office at 1-855-372-9866 or visiting online.