If it’s possible to give a production 10 stars out of five, Ross Petty’s pantomime “Cinderella” (written by Reid Janisse, directed by Tracy Flye) would nail it. His annual family musical was filled with jokes, laughter, pop culture references and ad-libbing — and, oh yeah, there was a plot in there, too. It debuted on November 27 at the Elgin Theatre to a packed audience, marking Ross Petty’s 19th year bringing his own taste of holiday theatre to Toronto.
The traditional tale of Cinderella is quickly hijacked by a “Wayne’s World”-like pair of students, Dwayne (Eddie Glen) and Zane (Reid Janisse), who insist their version of the fairytale will be better than their teacher’s, Professor Yongenbloor (Dan Chameroy). With the crowd cheering them on, Dwayne and Zane present Cinderella (Danielle Wade) as a farmers’ market enthusiast who’s two weeks shy of turning 21 and inheriting the market from her deceased father. But before that can happen, she’s got to content with her audience-boo-eliciting mean stepmother, Revolta Bulldoza (Ross Petty), and her two Kardashian-like stepsisters, Shakiki (Cleopatra Williams) and Nastine (Bryn McAuley). There’s a running gag throughout “Cinderella” where the only way Revolta can stop her daughters from bickering is by shouting “paparazzi!” and the two girls pause in an overly showy pose.
No telling of “Cinderella” would be complete without the dashing male counterpart, and in this case, it’s Max Charming (Jeff Lillico), a Bieberesque teen idol who’s virtuous, down-to-earth and just wants to make sure the kiddos eat healthy. He’s also more concerned with philanthropy and finding his soulmate than with his career, frustratedly ranting to his manager, Dan Deeni (Janisse), and only agrees to appear on the reality show “Eligi-Ball” at Casa Loma if half the proceeds will go to his charity.
It doesn’t take a detective to guess how “Cinderella” ends up, but that’s besides the point (except for Revolta’s “Hypno-Chips”, which she plans on using to take over the entire city, and the digestion of which cause all eaters to drone “All. Hail. Revolta.”). What makes this production unforgettable is everything that happens after Petty waltzes on stage, proclaiming, “Here I am, back where I belong, in a dress”. That he messes up his lines at one point only adds to the glee as he razzes an audience member and gives Buttons (Eddie Glen) a hard time about remembering his.
There are so many winning moments that will make even the most hardened soul crack a smile, it’d be impossible to list them all. Nonetheless, few citizens of the world are left untouched, from Toronto/Ontario politicians to Taylor Swift and everything in between. And once Cinderella’s fairy godmother, Plumbum (Dan Chameroy) arrives on scene, the fourth wall gets broken and the laughs go up impossibly high. “I swear,” she mutters, “that’s the last time I’m spinning around on stage, Tracey Flye.”
Could this show have been smoother around the edges? Absolutely, but it would have lost plenty of charm in the process. Instead, this “Cinderella” is like watching your extended, extended family get together, imbibe on a tad too much eggnog and then come up with a play in the heat of the excitement. Chameroy is terrifically excellent as Plumbum, the ghoulishly-dressed “woman” who somehow manages to get the handsomest men, including CBC’s Inspector Murdoch, and still find time to keep Cinderella on track to fulfill her destiny. Counteracting Chameroy is Petty, who borrows from plenty of personalities, with perhaps his touch of Dame Edna when he’s in a wedding dress at the end the funniest and most fitting.
Wade as the lead sings terrifically here, with a full voice that’s beautifully in pitch and full of emotion. The only thing possibly lacking from her performance is a touch of grittiness, as she’s so caught up with eating healthy, it becomes hard to believe after a while; otherwise, her sweetness gets a bit lost amid the double entendres and borderline ribald humour. Lillico as Max Charming (nee “Cumberbumper”) is a great match for her, adding depth and personality to make them a great pair. Shakiki and Nastine veer close to becoming annoying, especially when they screech, “Mummy! Mummy! Mummeeeeee!”, but their appearances are limited by Flye and the girls don’t go over the edge. Fleshing things out is the ensemble (Gabriel Antonacci, David Ball, Jacqueline Burtney, Lindsay Croxall, Nicko Giannakos, David Light, Jennifer Mote, Briana Caitlyn Palmer), which mostly appear as Cinderella’s farmers’ market employees but are adorably hilarious as a group of bearded gnomes working at — what else? — “Gnome Depot”.
The set (Michael Gianfrancesco, also the costume designer) has been beautifully designed, with the replacement of one for another being disguised by humourous CIBC commercials on a screen (although they entertaining, it was a bit uncomfortable to sit through commercialization of a play). Complementing the sets were the gorgeous and hilarious costumes, with Cinderella’s ball gown eliciting an “ooh” from the audience, and choreographer Robin Calvert, who did a fantastic job in getting everyone’s arms and legs moving in synchronicity.
It’s a winning production that has something for all ages: the little ones will wave around their lighted wands and get caught up in the magic of a new “Cinderella”, while the adults will find it impossible to resist shouting “boo” every time Revolta makes an appearance. No matter what kind of mood you’re in before the curtain lifts, “Cinderella” will have you feeling better than if you eschewed Hypno-Chips for a diet of an apple a day.
“Cinderella” runs through January 4 at the Elgin Theatre. For more information on the show and to buy tickets, click here.