Every year around this time, Ross Petty produces a Christmas panto, a lively show generally meant for children but lots of fun for adults, too. I have attended the panto for the past seven or eight years and it is usually excellent, full of bright colours and topical references and big hit pop songs. This year's Sleeping Beauty is no exception.
Cribbing liberally from the Angelina Jolie movie Maleficent, the story concerns a princess who gets cursed with sleep and the effect can only be reversed by a true love kiss. The show starts rather cutely with the Brothers Grimm introducing it. They also pop up on the commercials made exclusively for the show's main sponsors, the Toronto Star, Sleep Country and others. This year, Ross Petty decided to retire from playing the bad guy, and more's the pity. He's just so good at being the smarmy villain that I doubt he can be replaced. This year they chose reality TV star Hilary Farr, who does her damnedest, but it's just not the same. She has a lot of authority and elegance, but whenever Petty appeared on stage, the audience would go mad hissing and booing the villain. She just can't push those same buttons. The other irreplaceable cast member, Dan Chamroy, who usually plays the drag role, was also unavailable this year, so he has been replaced by Paul Constable. A seasoned Second City vet, Constable is recognizable as the Canadian Tire guy, but drag does not seem natural to him. In his running shoes and garbled costume, he seems more like a neighbourhood dad playing dress-up.
That said, the show itself is pure fun, visually dazzling with those digital projections, and full of tuneful songs. The section that opens act two, which takes place in Dreamland, is terrific, and it feels natural to get up and clap at the end of the show. Petty's panto is a Toronto tradition, a great one, and I always take my sister and brother-in- law. They aren't kids, but they act like kids when they watch it. This is the perfect entertainment for children of all ages, the perfect holiday treat, and you'd be a fool not to see it. But if I had a Christmas wish, it would be for Ross Petty to return as the bad guy. He's bloody iconic, and I just can't help missing him in that role.
Sleeping Beauty runs until Sat. Jan. 7 at the Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St. rosspetty.com