Dann Wilhelm admits he sometimes wonders about what he got himself into this Christmas season.
The actor and musician – well-known on the White Rock stage from such shows as Don’t Dress For Dinner, Leading Ladies and Private Lives – couldn’t be more heavily involved in the current White Rock Players Club production, the pantomime Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom.
The show, which promises a typically White Rock blend of music, singing and dancing, colourful costumes and scenery, knockabout comedy, cheers for the good guys and boos for the bad guys – and plenty of all-round silliness – begins previews next Wednesday (Dec. 5), leading into a Dec. 7 opening night gala and a run until Dec. 29 at Coast Capital Playhouse.
At last count, Wilhelm is not only the author of this year’s script, he’s also the director and musical director for the show – and he’s playing a leading role as the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham.
“I feel like it just kind of worked out that way – aside from me being a bit of a control freak,” Wilhelm chuckled, adding that he’s having so much fun with an inventive cast who fit their roles “perfectly” that the multiple responsibilities scarcely feel like a hardship.
“I brought in Lauren Gloanec as assistant director – we acted together and became friends during Private Lives – because she has a great eye and a great sense of humour and it’s very helpful to have her as my eyes when I’m on stage,” he added.
“That’s taken a little bit off my plate in terms of direction – when I’m up there I’m thinking about notes I need to give, but she’s usually got them anyway. She’s been very good about that.”
Nutty premise of the local-reference-heavy panto, Wilhelm explains, is that the Sheriff – virtually an “evil genius mastermind” in comparison to ultra-naive Prince John (played to the hilt by Reginald Pillay) and two idiotic henchmen, George (Erin Mulcahy) and Ringo (Romeo Kabanda) – has formed an unholy alliance with TransLink to build a new SkyTrain route right through Sherwood Forest.
“He’s hoping that the construction will flush Robin Hood and his Merry Men out of the forest, so that he can finally arrest them, and then maybe Maid Marion will decide the Sheriff is actually the man for her,” Wilhelm explained, noting that he wrote the show last spring, before Surrey’s LRT versus SkyTrain controversy became an election issue.
“It just seemed to work out that it’s become very topical.”
Naturally, the Sheriff’s scheme meets resistance from about-to-be-wed Robin (Jenn Lane) and Marion (Samantha Silver) – along with such stalwarts as Little John (Greg Tunner), Will Scarlet (long-time panto favourite Ray Van Ieperen), Friar Tuck (William Duncanson), Much, the Miller’s Son (Ferne Brown) and Gilbert Whitehand (Adrian Shaffer).
And where would such a group be without the guidance of minstrel/fairy Alana Dale (played in his typical over-the-top style by ever-popular panto dame Bryce Mills)?
But just to complicate matters, it turns out that Alana is almost immediately smitten by the Sheriff – leading to an inevitable pairing for traditional White Rock panto song, The Wonderful Year We Fell In Love.
“I originally did not intend casting myself,” Wilhelm said. “But after the auditions and everything, I said, ‘you know what? – we need someone who can stand up to Bryce,’ and, luckily, I have experience in that!”
Much as he is enjoying the reunion with Mills, his ‘brother-in-drag’ from the farce Leading Ladies, Wilhelm said he is also delighting in the rest of the cast, which includes both known quantities and newcomers to White Rock panto.
“Jenn is so good as Robin – he’s a bit of a flawed hero, and she’s got that, as well as all the heroic postures,” Wilhelm said. “Samantha was the principal boy last year, and it took her a little while to transition to principal girl, but as soon as I said, ‘think Disney princess,’ she just ran with it.”
He also noted that he was careful to give all of the Merry Men strong identities.
“Each of them has some really great individual moments – they’re having a lot of fun with it.”
The panto is also a family show in every sense of the word for Wilhelm – daughters Willow, 13, Cordelia, 10, and Sydney, 8, are members of the junior chorus, while his dad, guitarist Hennie, is assistant music director for the almost all-Beatles score.
“This is the first time all three girls and me have been on stage together, and, as for my dad, who better to help with the Beatles tunes than the man who got me into all that music in the first place?” Wilhelm said.
And he said he hasn’t felt overwhelmed yet by the multiple hats he’s wearing for this show – which just might have whetted his appetite for more acting/directing assignments in future.
“I’m not sure I’d do all of it again – but I’m not going to say never,” he said.
“It’s a lot of work – but it hasn’t felt like a lot of work.”
Curtain for Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom is 7:30 p.m. for Wednesday through Saturday evening performances, and 2:30 p.m. for Sunday matinees.
Tickets ($22, $19 for students and seniors and $15 for children 12 and under) are available from the box office, 604-536-7535, or at whiterockplayers.ca