By Mark Chavez, with music by Veda Hille. Directed by Anita Rochon. A Theatre Replacement production. At the York Theatre on Friday, December 1. Continues until January 6
Laugh-out-loud, loving send-ups of East Van stereotypes—and some excellent digs at West Van—couched in rewritten chart-topping songs of today and yesterday mean just one thing: it’s the annual East Van Panto!
This year’s Panto—the fifth—is a hyperlocal and wonderfully creative reimagining of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. But this Snow White (Ming Hudson) is a Hot Topic goth whose evil stepmother, the Fitness Queen from West Van (Allan Zinyk), keeps her locked in her room all the time. When the Mirror (Amy Rutherford) informs the Queen that she has been usurped by Snow White as the fairest in the land, the Queen blackmails her unpaid intern Heimlich (Chirag Naik) to kill her stepdaughter.
Instead, Heimlich confesses his murderous plot and helps Snow White escape to Playland, where she finds a ragtag group of aging rockers known as the seven dwarves living in the haunted house. The climactic chase scene is a raucous romp throughout the park grounds, featuring everything from the merry-go-round and the coaster to mini doughnuts and SuperDogs.
The music is great (Veda Hille returns for her fifth year, with musical director Ben Elliott adding additional touches), but there are some clear standouts, like when the Queen wants to disguise herself as a “cool East Van mom”. She not only sings about her transformation potion to the tune of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It”, her lengthy list of ingredients includes spot-on East Side women’s essentials like Blundstone boots and the DivaCup.
Writer Mark Chavez’s script works well, and nicely balances the political with the silly. Adding famed East Van crow Canuck (Zinyk, pulling double duty) into the mix is brilliant. I particularly enjoyed Chavez’s excellent disruption of Snow White’s very name—it isn’t just “a reference to some antiquated, racist beauty standard”—and his total reinterpretation of the word fairest.
Director Anita Rochon brings out the best in her cast, and their genuine joy at the quality of the material, and their commitment to it, is palpable.
At one point, my niece, a sensitive child who just turned nine, was suddenly on my lap, scared that Snow White was really dead. Two minutes later she was laughing hysterically, screaming something at the stage, and I realized that while I thoroughly enjoyed myself, it’s her perspective that really matters. So here is Ashley Warner-Smith’s review: “It’s hilarious and amazing. Give people a heads up about some of the scary moments. It’s amazing and the best.”