The whole is less than the sum of its parts, but some of those parts are excellent.
This year’s (online) East Van Panto is a collection of greatest musical hits from the last seven years of The Cultch and Theatre Replacement’s pantos. Writer Mark Chavez strings the songs together with a story that’s triggered by the arrival of the Phanto of the Panto. A Phantom of the Opera kind of guy, the Phanto has been lurking in the bowels of the York Theatre for years and he’s seen every frickin’ performance of every frickin’ panto since 2013; he’s desperate to see something new and he suggests the company build this year’s show around the little-known Grimm brothers tale “The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage” (which actually exists).
This new writing is fun and it’s great to see Chavez onstage again, performing as the Phanto; I’d forgotten how much I enjoy his droll delivery of absurd material. In the all-star cast, I also had particularly good time with Dawn Petten’s abandon — nobody commits like Petten does — and Amanda Sum’s singing, dancing, and all-round cool. Veda Hille’s songs are as hilarious as ever. You can’t top classics like “Rudolph the Average Reindeer”. (He he had a very normal nose.) And there are opportunities to participate. My dog was a bit surprised when I started dancing in my office and I forgot the ceiling was sloped, so it hurt when I threw my hands over my head. Still, I enjoyed all of these elements.
Most of the songs weren’t written for this show, though, so the overall experience is disjointed. There’s not enough Phanto storyline to carry this new entertainment and, although the songs are perfunctorily justified, most of them still feel like they’re coming from outer space: somebody mentions being hungry and Gelato, a character from the Pinoccho panto, suddenly appears and starts singing about ice cream. Where does the story go in the meantime, the third moon of Jupiter?
This repeated dynamic was so defeating that it wore away my interest — and I’ve seen all of the Theatre Replacement pantos; I can’t imagine what experiencing this show would be like for a kid or for somebody less versed in the material.
Panto Come Home! is a really good try at a Covid pivot, but it doesn’t complete the rotation.
PANTO COME HOME! Written by Mark Chavez. Directed by Maiko Yamamoto and James Long. Presented by The Cultch and Theatre Replacement. Viewed via livestream from the York Theatre on Friday, December 19. Available online until December 27. Tickets
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