Peter Pan in Wonderland: the pantomime that never grew up but keeps getting better
by Drew Rowsome- Production photos by Racheal McCaig
The sad news is that Ross Petty is retiring from his annual pantomime after 20 years of playing the villain. The even sadder news is that he doesn't don drag in Peter Pan in Wonderland and while his Captain Hook is evil incarnate, one can't help but long for the gowned gargoyles that were Bertha von Botox, Queen Farfrompoopin, Revolta Buldoza . . . Even Petty himself can't help but frequently stroke the luscious pirate wig as if recalling his drag triumphs. The good news is that his send-off production is a lot of fun and even slicker and more spectacular than its predecessors.
The plot - a mash-up of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland - is like previous versions (The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, The Little Mermaidand Cinderellabeing the most recent), merely an excuse to put on a show. And what a show it is. Petty has a great eye for talent and an endless appetite for tomfoolery, the eye-popping sets by Playground Studios are a candy-coloured fantasy land for the cast to strut their stuff.
Of course Dan Chameroy as Tinkerbum flounces off with any scene she enters. She also gets the most innuendo-laden jokes, a slow motion slapstick near-death scene, more pratfalls than can be counted, and the most touching moment that is the heart of the show. Chameroy is exquisite, grotesque and a wonder.
Chameroy has some serious competition from Jessica Holmes as the Queen of Hearts. Mangling her consonants with precision she pauses to belt out a devastatingly vicious Céline Dion impersonation that is a satirical showstopper. There is an excess of vocal power in Peter Pan, with Steffi DiDomenicantonio and Lindsay Croxall cutting loose with some powerful wails.
The chorusboys who were such an integral part of the pantomime's pleasures, are ably replaced by recruits from the television show The Next Step. The inevitable dance-off is handily won by the acrobatic and astounding work of Taveeta Szymanowicz, Jordan Clark and Lamar Johnson. Dapper Johnson is a whirlwind of spins, flips and moon walks and is a sexy rubber-limbed delight to watch.
Titular lead Anthony MacPherson is an amiable presence who keeps getting lost in the chaos of the theatrical godzillas stomping the boards. A boy who doesn't grow up just isn't as intriguing as a rampaging horny drag queen, an imperious queen, or a dancer making the queens swoon. When he does move front and centre in a dance number his nimbleness (and skin-tight green tights) are eye-catching. MacPherson flies with a grace that is magical and stops the show in a skipping competition that appears to have been inserted just to demonstrate his Cirque du Soleil worthy skill.
Petty appears to be having a grand time. He cedes the stage with casual grace but when his big number arrives, he shows everyone how it is done. The voice may be a little ragged and he may not move with sinuous grace, but the man has charisma and showmanship to burn. He relishes the boos that he elicits and, being opening night, flings out joke after pun after political jibe after joke, trying to decide which ones work and which will have to be replaced or re-thought. (Hint: Harper is too easy a target and also fading, thank god, from memory; Kaitlyn Jenner might be too soon unless Petty was in complementary drag; but a turn as "Donald Rump" and the endless hair jokes work wonderfully)
There is such a flood of gags and incessant wordplay that the stalwart Eddie Glen is, aside from the opening number, mainly a straight man. Fortunately he gets the Adele joke which, like the songbird herself, is the biggest and best joke of the night.
Amidst the laughter, blatant but hilarious commercial plugs, and general mayhem, there is thrum of sadness for childhood lost, the danger of losing one's imagination (it is a plot point), of Petty passing on the baton to an unknown-as-of-yet villainous grande dame. The themes dovetail with Petty's adieu and for a brief moment there is glimpse of the heart of theatre, the desire to create, to perform. But then there is another burst of madcap madness, or a frenetic dance number, and the audience is swept up and off to Wonderland. It is all very silly, very well done and delightful.
Peter Pan in Wonderland continues until Sun, Jan 3 at The Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St. rosspetty.com