Ben Pilger as Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Panto,” a White Rock Players’ Club production at Coast Capital Playhouse until Dec. 30.

MINTY: ‘Hunchback’ panto pulls off a quirky take on Hugo’s classic story

Also on stage this month, a ‘Sinbad’ original in Surrey created by the queenly Ellie King

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

It’s panto time. This time of year, the traditional English pantomime – and variations thereof – are found on stages throughout the land. Steeped in pantomime tradition, I understand this delightful musical theatre genre.

Behind the scenes, I have designed costumes, made props, stage-managed and produced quite a few of these delightful shows. On stage, I have been a tap-dancing panto horse, a mirror ball, a witch and two queens. So, I guess you could say I understand the panto genre from the inside out.

White Rock Players’ Club had produced pantos for more than 50 years. They have a huge following, and usually enjoy sold-out houses. This production is the fundraiser for the company’s entire year, to keep the club-owned and -operated playhouse running. Plus, the panto provides the best opportunity for many musical-theatre aficionados to participate in live theatre.

This year the Players have a few fresh faces taking the helm. This year’s panto, The Hunchback of Notre Panto, is “lovingly ripped-off” from the Victor Hugo masterwork, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and based on the script by local panto master Dave Baron. The new creative team has a different take on this classic – different, but yet so traditional.

Director Alex Lowe is new to the whole panto experience. His enthusiasm carries over to the smaller-than-usual cast – 16 players, half the number of last year’s show. I can only say that half the number of cast members delivers twice the show. I loved every quirk and action. It was captivating. Good job, Alex. You did capture the spirit of commedia dell’arte and vaudeville. Pantomime is based on these older genres of entertainment. They gave rise to the “modern” musical theatre. So, in short, pantomime is not mime. Ask Google.

Bryce Mills plays the Dame once again. His over-the-top performances are absolutely perfect for panto. The Dame gowns, created by Kevin Kriesz, were the best of show. Kevin honed his costume-design talents with Royal City Youth Ballet and Royal City Musical Theatre. Kevin grew up in the world of community theatre, and is known as a dancer, performer and now, finally, costume designer. This is Kevin’s first panto.

Also new to the panto world is this show’s musical director, Marquis Byrd. He says he would like to be a music teacher, and has been working toward his degree. He is another one of those people who have gone through the music and theatre programs at Capilano University. It’s getting to be quite a network of trained talent enthusiastically embracing community theatre. Welcome to my world!

This panto may be a bit different than previous years, but I think you will absolutely enjoy it. I did. It runs until Dec. 30 at Coast Capital Playhouse, with days off for Christmas. For tickets and more details, including show times, call 604-536-7535 or visit whiterockplayers.ca.

Around here, pantomime time would just not be complete without a Surrey showing of a pantomime by Ellie King, who grew up in England and has been involved with pantomimes since the age of three. Yep, she understands the genre. When King first came to Surrey, I crowned her the “Queen of Pantos.” Now, it is just part of the legend.

King’s pantos are always originals, including the music. She has a talented family, and makes use of the talent. This year’s original is Sinbad, the Pirates and the Dinosaur. Original, right? Never let it be said that panto people lack imagination.

The show runs at Surrey Arts Centre from Dec. 14 to 26; buy tickets at 604-501-5566 or at the city’s online box office, tickets.surrey.ca. There is a special “relaxed” performance (as already reported in the Now-Leader) on Dec. 21. This performance of Sinbad is intended specifically to be sensitive to, and accepting of, audience members who may benefit from a more relaxed environment, including (but not limited to) those with autistic spectrum conditions, anyone with sensory and communication disorders or learning disabled people. Yay, Ellie. Making theatre more available for everyone. The whole theatre experience does build better communities. This is just one story. I like it.

melminty@telus.net

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Ben Pilger (as Quasimodo), Juliana Peralta (Esmerelda) and Kelly Thompson (Frollo) in “The Hunchback of Notre Panto,” a White Rock Players’ Club production at Coast Capital Playhouse until Dec. 30. (submitted photo)

Erin Mulcahy (as Angel) and Nicolas Dyke (Demon) in “The Hunchback of Notre Panto,” a White Rock Players’ Club production at Coast Capital Playhouse until Dec. 30. (submitted photo)

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