by Paul Love
Pantomime is a time-honoured musical theatre style that was developed in England, and whose roots stretch all the way back to ancient Rome. It is characterized as a mixture of singing, dancing, topical humour, and slapstick comedy, usually based on a well-known fairy tale. The Scugog Choral Society’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is all of that and much more.
The story of Beauty and the Beast has become a popular one these days, thanks to Disney’s live action version being released earlier this year. The main story is there—a prince is cursed and turned into a beast, and only true love will break the spell; a socially outcast woman meets the beast and is determined to bring out the good in him. But the story takes a backseat to a cavalcade of jokes, pop culture references, silly but fun song and dance numbers, and—literally—toilet humour, all with enthusiastic audience participation.
Speaking of audience participation, the person who is most effective at bringing the audience along on the adventure—while also making them roll in the aisles with laughter—is David Hooker as Bertie. Hooker has such a gift for improv and humour that he seems as though he’d be perfectly at home headlining at a comedy club. With his warm smile and the twinkle of glee in his eye, he had the audience—particularly the children in attendance—totally captivated. Bringing a more madcap, clownish—and very funny—style of comedy to the proceedings is Kathy Knight, who plays Dame Fifi Latrine. Knight, in her zany, colourful costumes and applied-with-a-slingshot makeup, was game for lots of crazy high-energy antics, which also endeared her to the kids—and the grownups—in attendance.
Also adding to the laughs and silliness are Jim Knight as eccentric Professor Baguette, Don Coverley, using great physical comedy as the evil Claude, and Jeannie Herrold, who wonderfully embraces her role as the main villain, Diabla. Young Luke Spadzinskii holds his own with the grownups as the troublemaker Billie. The title characters, played by Skylor McQueen and Donald Bark, provide warmth and a romance with their on-stage chemistry.
Music is used effectively in the show, with standards from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast like “Be Our Guest” and the title song being intermingled with classic oldies like the Turtles’ “Happy Together” and modern pop songs like Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk”. Despite the focus being predominantly on the big laughs, the show has a wonderfully poignant moment when Belle and the Beast turn the gorgeous, under-appreciated Keane song “Somewhere Only We Know” into a touching duet that really resonates with their story.
No show is perfect, and there were a few flubbed lines and miscues throughout the production, but the real genius about this clever cast is that they were able to work their mistakes into the show and even mine them for laughs.
Although some of the humour is aimed straight at the adults in attendance, this show is definitely a lot of fun for kids. In the words of 7-year-old Carter, “It was great. I like how they added new characters, and how they kept making references to the real world. That was so funny.”
If you’re looking for a fun musical theatre experience that you can bring the whole family to see, check out Scugog Choral Society’s production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at the beautiful Town Hall 1873 in Port Perry before it’s gone. Remaining performances are November 30th and December 1st at 7:30, and December 2nd at 2 pm.