Tom Cleevely stars as the Phantom and Chelsea Rose Tucker is Christine in Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s latest pantomime

Phantom parody haunts Surrey stage

Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society presents its original, family-friendly musical pantomime, Phantom of the Panto.

Gaston Leroux, original author of The Phantom of the Opera, might be turning in his grave.

And Baron Lloyd-Webber, who spawned the musical adaptation that became a worldwide phenomenon, would be forgiven for emitting a few falsetto notes of alarm.

Regardless, Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s (FVGSS) latest pantomime – The Phantom of the Panto – hit the boards of the Surrey Arts Centre mainstage this week and continues until Dec. 9.

Following on last year’s hit version of Beauty and the Beast (the CTC award-winner for best musical or pantomime production) the new show has the additional advantage of being an original from the society fold.

It’s written by regular FVGSS performer Clive ‘Hitman’ Ramroop, whose audacious inspiration is to take the framework of the famous story, adapted many times since it first appeared in 1911, and rework it in broad ‘panto’ style.

And according to Tom Cleevely, who stars as the Phantom, and Chelsea Rose Tucker, who plays Christine, the object of his obsession, the result is a very funny spoof that still fulfills all the family-friendly requirements of a Christmas season entertainment.

“It’s a hilarious show, and so much fun to do,” said Tucker, who added she has come to terms with the humourous melodramatics and confusion of her character, a sweet young singer who is trained and guided behind the scenes by the compelling, if frightening, presence of the Phantom.

“She’s a very positive person, if just a little bit terrified,” she said. “At first I found I was playing her much too seriously after doing regular musicals.”

For the ambitious, up-and-coming musical theatre performer, Phantom is a serendipitous opportunity to revisit her roots with FVGSS, after studying classical voice at UVic and musical theatre at the Canadian College of Performing Arts, and playing major roles for the Victoria Operatic Society and in Fighting Chance’s hit Vancouver production version of Rent this summer.

“I was either 12 or 13 when I first went out for a FVGSS show – my dad (Tim Tucker, musical director of Phantom) and I were both in the chorus of Pajama Game,” she said.

Subsequent parts for FVGSS included plum panto roles as Jill in Little Red Riding Hood, and the principal boy in Robinson Crusoe.

“The most fun part of Phantom is the relatability,” she said. “A lot of pantos in the past have been existing scripts from England and we’ve had to change all the jokes because they wouldn’t be understood by the audience.”

Cleevely, a Douglas College-trained singer-songwriter who plays both piano and guitar, also has considerable stage experience including roles in The Music Man, in Victoria, Biloxi Blues in Langley and a part in an earlier FVGSS production of The Mikado.

According to Tucker, he not only possesses a fabulous voice – he’s also “hilarious” as the Phantom.

“This Phantom is a little bit petulant,” Cleevely  acknowledged. “When things don’t go his way he gets kind of whiny.

He recognizes that Phantom, first and foremost, works as a parody.

“There are moments of powerful seriousness, but they’re usually presented as the set-up for some kind of gag,” he said.

Cleevely also noted that while one of Lloyd-Webber’s classic songs has been retained, in typical panto fashion the score consists of a wide variety of popular material “repurposed” for the show’s needs.

In addition to Cleevely and Tucker, the show features a group of accomplished and reliable entertainers, including Jeff Christiansen (as dame Carlotta Ferrari), James Walker and Samantha Andrews as theatre owner-managers Andre Jyne and Firmin Full, Jackie Block (as Meg Nolia) and Joni Hayden-Summerton (as principal boy Raoul).

Another indicator of quality is the same creative team who delivered on Beauty and the Beast – artistic director Mike Balser, Tucker, choreographer Carol Seitz and producer Reginald Pillay.

Also featured in a large and predominantly young cast are Jake Hildebrand (Joe Bouquet DeFleur), Adrian Duncan (Punchy Ferrari), Jerret Schwartz (The Skull) and Frannie Warwick (Trappe).

Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with matinées Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. The Surrey Arts Centre is located at 13750 88 Ave.

For ticket information, call 604-501-5566 or visit http://tickets.surrey.ca/

Surrey North Delta Leader

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