We went to see the Ross Petty production of Beauty and the Beast last weekend. (Thanks Kerri for getting on the phone as soon as tickets were available and getting us third row seats!) Ross Petty has produced (and starred in) a pantomime at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto every Christmas for 15 years, and this is our third (or fourth?) year going to see them. It’s always a lot of fun, and this year was no different. Petty always gets some fairly big name people in the show: In past years, he’s gotten Kurt Browning, Alan Frew, Patty Sullivan (if you have young kids and live in Canada you will likely recognize her), Don Harron, Jessica Holmes, and even Bret “The Hitman” Hart. This year it was former Canadian Idol winner Melissa O’Neill and Kids In The Hall alumnus Scott Thompson. Petty himself always stars as the villain, and loves to be booed – so much so that if he appears on the stage and doesn’t get booed, he stops, looks at the audience, and waits until they start booing him, grinning all the while. Then he inevitably tells everyone to shut up, though of course he wants nothing of the sort. He likes to get some topical humour in there as well; last year he talked about Tiger Woods, and this year he called the audience a bunch of left-wing pinkos.
The shows are aimed at kids (and there are a zillion of ’em there), but there are enough “grown-up” jokes that we parents always get a good laugh as well. The best one this year was by Scott Thompson, who was dressed in drag as Aunt Plinky. (There’s always someone in drag in these shows.) At one point, they bring three kids from the audience (Nicky was chosen last year!) up on stage and talk to them a little. Scott was dressed as Queen Elizabeth at this point, and asked one of the kids “Have you ever been this close to a queen before?”, and gave a knowing look to the audience. This was funny enough for most of the kids but for the adults, knowing that Thompson is gay made it even funnier. After the little girl said no, Thompson replied “Well, you probably have but you didn’t know it.”
I love all the little unexpected things they throw in there – things that aren’t necessary, don’t advance the plot or anything like that, they’re just funny. Near the end of the play, when the problem has been solved and the bad guy defeated, the main characters come together and sing the “We Did It!” song from Dora the Explorer. Or when the main two characters (Bella and Prince Zack) are singing a romantic love song to each other, Aunt Plinky shows up with
his her bubble gun and dances around silently blowing bubbles all over the stage. Every year, Petty picks a particularly silly dance sequence and says afterward “You won’t see that at the Nutcracker!”, which is not only funny because it’s absolutely true, but also because he is married to Canada’s most famous ballerina, Karen Kain.
Petty has a clever way of mentioning the sponsors – they take two “commercial breaks” and show very funny commercials featuring the actors and/or characters from the play. This year we had “Queen Elizabeth” (Thompson again) staying at the Royal York, Bella trying on dresses and Aunt Plinky getting drunk and passing out at The Bay, and “Busking Beaver” (Justin Bieber with buck teeth and a flat tail) buying wood at Lowe’s, among others.
If you get a chance to see one of Ross Petty’s plays near Christmas some year, definitely check it out, especially if you have kids. Just don’t get tickets too early, or you may get the ones that we should be getting. And if you’re going the same night as us, definitely do not go to Baton Rouge across the street for dinner beforehand. I’m sure the Popeye’s Chicken across the street is just as good.