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East Van Panto: Beauty and the Beast — such a beauty

by | Nov 25, 2023 | Review | 3 comments

(Photo by Emily Cooper)

Year after year, almost without fail, Theatre Replacement’s East Van Pantos are some of the most innovative, entertaining productions we see all season. Beauty and the Beast is one of the best.

Co-writers Jivesh Parasram and Christine Quintana have modeled their script very loosely on the Disney version of the story. In the Parasram/Quintana telling, Belle wants to pursue a degree in finance so she can address the injustices of capitalism. In a refreshing touch, everybody she talks to about her (sound) analysis finds it so boring they fall asleep.

The frankly stated theme of this panto is that it’s important to be able to change your mind. The Beast in this version is a wealthy, intransigent young man from West Vancouver: “I don’t flip for nobody!” When he tells an Enchantress who’s disguised as a beggar that, if she can’t afford sushi on her own, maybe she should examine her life choices, she transforms him into a mattress. If you’re familiar with the huge Mr. Mattress sign at the corner of Clark and Venables that advertises “No No-Flip Mattresses!”, you’ll get the joke. And, if you don’t, who cares? The surrealism of Jason Sakaki bouncing around as a baby-blue twin still works.

Everybody who was in Fujiya at the time of the transformation — that Japanese food store is another East Van landmark — is simultaneously turned into staples. So Mrs. Potts from the Disney story becomes Miso Potts, and a brown businessman from next door becomes a piece of sushi: Salman Roe.

I’ve been repeating these goofy jokes to my partner all morning and chortling like a kid. There’s a gang of skunks. They have a musk cannon.

And the production looks fantastic. You know those little Japanese figurines of the cat with one waving arm (maneki-neko)? Two gigantic versions of that cat face feature prominently in Lauchlin Johnston’s set for the Fujiya scenes and their mouths move, so they can sing along to the songs. And the waving paw crops up in Amanda Testini’s witty choreography.

The performances are great.

As the Beast, lots of Sakaki’s reactions to the outrageous plot turns consist of a pause and then some version of “… What?” It works. He knows how to let us in on the Beast’s vulnerability. And he continues to be one of Vancouver’s most charming song-and-dance men.

You could not find a better Belle than Steffanie Davis. She’s a ridiculously gifted singer. In Act 2, she belts out a parody of Adele’s “Skyfall”. You try that. She rocks the dance moves. And, as with Sakaki, her pitch-perfect sense of bafflement makes the most of the script’s zaniness.

I want to be Mark Chavez when I grow up. In this panto, he’s playing King Skunk among other characters. Almost nobody has such a well-honed sense of absurdity.

Alaia Hamer’s costumes are fantastic. The Enchantress’s gown is all black and pink and sparkly. Every piece of sushi is a winner.

As always, the two-person band of musical director and composer Veda Hille and percussionist June Mirochnik propel the show. (Hille and Mishelle Cutler are playing alternate nights.)

My friend and I were as excited as kids on the way home. Thanks to director Anita Rochon and her team, this is the kind of show that would be worth seeing more than once.

EAST VAN PANTO: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST By Jivesh Parasram and Christine Quintana. Directed by Anita Rochon. On Friday, November 24. A Theatre Replacement production playing at The York until January 7. Tickets

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  1. Laura Z

    The Pantos directed by Anita Rochon are definitely some of my favourites. And the way Mark Chavez delivers a simple line like, “That was a musky one” so deadpan-absurdly still cracks me up. Steffanie Davis is astonishingly good. What a voice! Stellar cast this year.

  2. Margaret Keane

    Delighted to read your review. I’m looking forward to watching the show – from my home in Campbell River. I’ve an extra boost to my interest in this work – after leaving Prince George I lived at 1847 Venables for four years and loved the East Side of Vancouver, and Lauchlin Johnson is married to my youngest son.
    I love your reviews and always read them with great interest – even during the 30+ years I lived in Northern B.C. and couldn’t see the plays I relied on good critical reviews to make me question my own practices in teaching Drama in a High School and Community Theatre. I looked for knowledge and inspiration in any place I could pick up useful tips and questions.

    Thank you

    Margaret Keane

    • Colin Thomas

      Thanks Margaret. What a rich set of connections!


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