Snow White Toronto

Snow White and James Bond team up in new musical

As far as December traditions go, Ross Petty's annual pantomime is like the Christmas cracker at the family meal — it's loud, cheap, and chock full of quick gags. Still, it's an essential part of the fun and, as it turns out, so is Petty's low brow British import on Toronto's holiday calendar.

This year's fractured fairy tale, Snow White: The Deliciously Dopey Family Musical, features the rock n' raucous elements you've come to expect from the panto, plus a number of clever additions. Rick Miller, Carolyn Bennett and Malcolm Clarke are the writers behind the musical. Their story features a solid structure, if not a tad long, that is buoyed throughout by strong performances. While it nevertheless is weighed down by some of the usual Petty proclivities, this year's version is a cracking Christmas treat.

When the Queen (Petty) decides to bulldoze the surrounding woods in an attempt to mine botox, Snow White (Melissa O'Neil) must unite the creatures of the forest, and allies met along the way, against her evil stepmother. The assembled list of confidantes includes James Bond (Graham Abbey), Little Red Riding Hood (Bryn McAuley), Pinocchio (Billy Lake), a ham resembling Don Cherry (Reid Janisse), and the brawn, Jack the Giant Killer (David Cotton). At every turn, the Queen, dragging along her gentle fool (Eddie Glen), reaches new lows in her attempts at being the fairest in the land.

Petty's tales are told through a pop culture kaleidoscope, featuring hit songs that help smooth over some of the thin elements of the script. O'Neil has no trouble delivering a Katy Perry ballad, but the part is written so sugar and sweet that it's hard for her to put a stamp on it. Petty milks the most out of LMFAO's "I'm Sexy and I Know It." He's less successful on Adele's "Skyfall" — that's one songstress that should be hands off for an, ahem, aging queen.

The addition of Bond, whose 007 alias stands in for all seven dwarfs, is brilliant. Abbey proves to be our guide through the twists and turns of the production and we couldn't be in better hands. Channeling a Conneryesque personae, he pulls together the plot elements with a self-referential veteran's grace.

Also delightful is the pairing of Lake and Janisse as the Coach's Corner fairy tale twosome. While Lake's puns illicit a chorus of groans, he's a better foil to Janisse's fast-talking hockey commentator. McAuley rounds out the strong performances with incredibly petulant moments as little Red.

Director Tracey Flye wrangles the various parts into a focused and funny production. Erika Connor's costumes are a highlight, especially the Queen's garish dresses, and projections from Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson complement the action.

The most tedious aspect of the panto are the commercials sprinkled throughout the acts. Commercials at the theatre, you ask? Ads for the Royal York, Lowe's, and Sears Mastercard, among others, integrate the characters from the play in an attempt to mask the overt sell-out factor.

Their inclusion is borderline offensive. Audiences pay more money for live theatre because it offers an experience different from the one on their television sets. The panto can get away with more than usual, maybe, but the commercials indicate a padding of the coffers.

Ads aside, this year's holiday panto proves to be a fun night at the theatre. There's even a bit of "Gangnam Style" to help complete the pop culture parade.

Snow White: The Deliciously Dopey Family Musical, directed by Tracey Flye, runs at the Elgin Theatre until January 5.

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