By Mark Chavez. Directed by Anita Rochon. Musical direction by Veda Hille. A Theatre Replacement production, presented by the Cultch. At the York Theatre on Friday, November 25. Continues until December 31
Thank you, Theatre Replacement and the Cultch, for giving East Vancouver families a holiday tradition that joyously skewers convention. This fourth installment, Little Red Riding Hood, has a little more polish and a little less chaos, but it’s as fresh, irreverent, and fun as its predecessors.
Musical director Veda Hille is back with her reliably witty reworkings of pop classics; as in the past, her contributions are some of the show’s highlights. New to the creative team this year are playwright Mark Chavez and director Anita Rochon.
In this version of the tale, Grandma’s house is in the Woodward’s building and the forest is the Adanac bike route. When her two helicopter dads accidentally leave Little Red at home alone, she heads off to Grandma’s house, but en route, she meets the Wolf.
Chavez’s script includes a few references to local politics, not all of which land, but the strength of his comedy is its absurdity, rooted in West Coast sensibilities. The Wolf explains his huffing and puffing, for example, as “conscious breathing". After her bike wheel is stolen, Red takes a paper clip and makes a series of trades that eventually nets her the Gastown Steam Clock. And there are plenty of fart jokes for the kids.
Rochon’s staging is equally inventive. As Red rides her bike, actors hold up little paintings of the houses and East Van landmarks she passes (the exquisitely colourful work of scenic illustrator Laura Zerebeski). A scene of the Wolf chasing Grandma takes place in the dark, with nothing visible but two pairs of glowing eyes moving around the stage. With the exception of an overly long play-within-the-play late in the second act, the pacing is crisp.
Everyone in the cast is terrific. Rachel Aberle combines pluck and innocence as Red; she’s playfully responsive to the audience, and she sings beautifully. Playing the Wolf, a bike cop, and an orange-prison-jumpsuited “Holiday Claus” who works up the audience at the top of each act, Andrew McNee is a hoot. As the Wolf’s hostage, a pig named Owen, Chirag Naik delivers a knockout chorus of “Don’t Squeal Out Loud”. And James Long has great fun as both randy Grandma Roxy and a hyper-PC gay dad.
In a variety of supporting roles, three Studio 58 students—Elizabeth Barrett, Mason Temple, and Stephanie Wong—sing and dance like pros and wear a parade of outrageous costumes. The cast and the mayhem are rounded out by a rotating group of kids. Hille on keyboards and drummer Barry Mirochnick provide an irrepressible sonic engine, and in their witty details, Marina Szijarto’s vivid costumes are a source of endless delight.
If the East Van Panto isn’t part of your holiday tradition yet, what are you waiting for?