Seahorse-playing sisters Madelyn (left) and Kiera (right) flank Yasmin Pena, as Calypso, in “The Little Mermaid,” a panto produced for the Surrey Arts Centre stage by FVGSS, A Musical Theatre Company. (Photo: Rob Dunne/submitted)

MINTY: ‘The Little Mermaid’ dives in as Surrey’s first panto of holiday season

Pantomime shows bring families together, both on stage and in theatre seats

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

SURREY — It’s panto time. This time of year, most community theatre clubs produce a pantomime. The traditional British pantomime has a long history, and with little effort and time-travelling, you can easily attend several offerings.

Pantomime is not mime. Mime is an art form that is totally different from pantomime. Mine is mute, and pantomimes are full of music and dancing and based on a fractured fairy tale. Cheer the hero, boo the villain. Have a sing-a-long. Good always triumphs, after a rousing chase scene and magical help, usually from a fairy. It is all good family fun and entertainment. Perfect for the season.

First in line for this year’s panto parade is FVGSS’s production at Surrey Arts Centre. This year is another home-written panto, The Little Mermaid. This is not the Disney version, but the story is based on the traditional Little Mermaid tale. This version, written by Mike Balser and Barbie Warwick (adapted from original script by Peter Zednik), finds young mermaid Calypso (Yasmin Pena) dreaming of a life above the waves. Of course she falls in love with a human prince (Jenn Tiles), who has his own troubles.

Calypso’s friends Shellie the Crab (Rachelle Beaulieu) and Katy Perrywinkle (Paige Thomsen) combine forces to turn the tide. Do fairy tales come true? In panto-land, the good guys always win. FVGSS (formerly known as Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society) is celebrating its 36th year, and 29th panto. Quite a history.

The history is like a family album, and every panto features a large, diverse cast that includes family members. For The Little Mermaid, the cast is 33 strong, and range in age from eight to 70. Lots of singing and dancing. The music is under the direction of Crab Calloway (aka Tim Tucker), and dance choreograpy is co-ordinated by Tamara Jaune and Elisabeth Lay.

The Little Mermaid runs at Surrey Arts Centre from Nov. 23 to Dec. 3. Tickets are as low as $12, for the Thursday, Nov. 23 preview night. Groups can purchase tickets for $18 via fvgss.org, or call 604-501-5566. Visit the FVGSS website for quick and easy info. In keeping with the season, FVGSS supports Surrey Christmas Bureau. Please bring an unwrapped toy for donation. Share the experience.

For any community theatre presentation, I think it is the people behind the story who bring the heart and soul to the production. Director Balser says, “We have a good team” and credits the kids chorus as being “phenomenal” this year. Great singers. This is the fifth panto that the magical Mike has co-written or adapted. He is thinking of taking a break, but “this stuff calls to me.”

Clive Ramroop is appearing in his 11th straight panto with FVGSS. He also was the author of Phantom of the Panto, presented by FVGSS a few seasons ago. A gifted performer, Ramroop this year is one-half the evil henchmen – Sting (Nathan Dorey) and Ray (Ramroop). Lionel Rust is half of another duo, Bow and Scrape. Rust plays Bow and he says, “I’m the idiot again.” Last year Rust was Twiddle Dee in White Rock Players’ production of Alice. We shared the stage for that one. I was the Queen of Hearts and loved shouting, “Off with their heads!” Rust also reminded me that 10 years ago we shared the stage in another FVGSS panto, Excalibur. I was a witch, he was the village idiot. Is there a theme here? Sigh. Anyway, all great fun.

Besides sharing the stage with friends, the FVGSS group has always had family members involved. This year super singing star Rebekah MacEwan steps out of the spotlight and into the chorus to share the experience with her daughter Annie. “It is the highlight of her life,” relates Rebekah. Yes, I know that feeling. Even though rehearsals are a demanding three nights a week, these kids deserve lots of recognition for their efforts – as do the parents.

More family: Lyn Verra-Lay (our B.C. Cultural Days Ambassador) decided to play again in a panto. Her last panto was also Excalibur, and she was hilarious as the witch who used a Swiffer instead of a broom. In her role as mentor for Surrey Youth Arts Council, Verry-Lay is getting young people involved in panto-land. Pam Dhadwal is working on props. There’s more to this story: Lyn’s daughter, Elisabeth – we call her Biz – is one of the choreographers, and husband Steve plays in the band.

Gillian Myers and grandson L.J. Hill-Godin are doing their third panto together. So there is a third generation following in the footsteps. Paige Thomsen has her sister Wendy in the chorus this year – first time for Wendy, while Paige is a veteran performer. Paige is also doing makeup for the cast and has friends who will be backstage helping apply a professional look in makeup. It’s really part of the overall great experience of being on the team.

There are so many connections other than family. Rachelle Beaulieu has returned to panto-land after a very long hiatus. Her first experience on stage encouraged her to take tap dance classes. Yep. We were in the same beginner class. In fact, were the tap dancing bridesmaids at Judy Sibson’s wedding. Judy is in charge of costumes for The Little Mermaid. Family. I mean, seriously, tap dancing bridesmaids. I swear, it’s all true.

There are many new people, in addition to Wendy and Annie, who are participating in this year’s show. They are welcomed in the family of FVGSS. Get your tickets right now. Bring your family, friends or maybe just someone you tap dance with. This may not be a Disney show, but the feeling is pure magic with a good bit of fairy dust thrown in for good measure. Don’t forget a toy for the Christmas Bureau. A mermaid doll is an optional choice.

melminty@telus.net

OTHER PANTOS ON STAGE THIS YEAR

White Rock Players’ Club does a modern take on Quasimodo’s tale in The Hunchback of Notre-PANTO, at Coast Capital Playhouse for a month starting Nov. 29. Call 604-536-7535 for info, or visit whiterockplayers.ca.

Royal Canadian Theatre Company gets in the act with Ellie King’s Sinbad, the Pirates and the Island of the Dinosaur, at Surrey Arts Centre from Dec. 14 to 26. Call 604-501-5566 or click on rctheatreco.com.

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