East Van Panto: The Little Mermaid – underwater heaven


Publicity photo for East Van Panto: The Little Mermaid

Amanda Sum and Ghazal Azarbad get smoochy — with Adam Weaver in the background.(Photo by Emily Cooper)

It’s spectacular, a stupidly good time — and I mean that in the most enthusiastic way possible.

For this year’s East Van Panto, playwright Sonja Bennett has turned the 1989 Disney animation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid inside out, so it really doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the movie, although you’ll catch a few more references if you have.

In Bennett’s telling, Ariel is a human girl who falls in love with a mermaid named Eeer-k and makes a questionable deal with Ursula the octopus/sea witch so that she can pursue her would-be girlfriend into the ocean: if Ariel can’t get Eeer-k to kiss her before sundown, she’ll be turned to stone.

The performances are all casually, hilariously flawless. Amanda Sum brings deadpan innocence — and a tendency to break into interpretive dance — to Ariel. This commitment to (weird) simplicity is pure clowning. Dawn Petten frickin’ killed me as Ursula. Callous, dismissive, sexy, absurd: who else could have come up with that combo? And Petten is so confident; she’s having so much fun! Andrew Wheeler is touchingly basset-like as Ariel’s dad, Triton. And Mark Chavez is flying wild as Ariel’s crab friend Sebastian, hurling himself at the material, and apparently making stuff up on the fly, cracking up his fellow performers — and himself. Ghazal Azarbad as Eeer-k: well, basically, I want to be Ghazal Azarbad when I grow up. This time out, she’s brightly sexy with her blue lips, blue hair, and wide eyes. And the woman can sing! Like she’s torchy. Who knew?

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