Surrey’s season of silly pantomime starts this week — not a moment too soon for people who love watching the family-friendly shows and those who enjoying playing in them.
Fraser Valley Musical Theatre kicks off with a “Sleeping Beauty” musical comedy at Surrey Arts Centre’s Main Stage, starting Nov. 23, followed there by Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s “The Snow Queen: A Frozen Adventure,” opening Dec. 16. White Rock Players have their own panto hitting the stage with “The Magic Flute,” which starts a four-week run on Nov. 30.
The Fraser Valley company had worked to get “Sleeping Beauty” to the stage last winter as its annual panto, but the pandemic delayed those plans.
Now the company’s goal is to welcome spectators back to the theatre at Bear Creek Park with a fun, Motown music-filled show.
“I think people have gotten out of the habit of going to live theatre, but we have good talent this year, a good show,” raved Tim Tucker, music director.
FVMT president Jim Nelson says “Sleeping Beauty” experienced a surge in early sales, something not seen since pre-COVID times.
“It seems many audience members are eager to get out for some fun and relaxation in their lives,” he said. “Pantos are always about feeling good, and FVMT can certainly promise you that.”
The panto, like others, is reason to boo the villains, cheer the “good guys” and witness a slightly twisted version of a Disney classic. There’s a king, queen and royal court with some very interesting traits, a royal postman beset by two very mischief-making kids, fairies and “sneaky” bushes, among other characters.
The show’s live music, meanwhile, will be played by a five-piece band led by Tucker.
“Most of the other local pantos do not have a live band for pantos, but we’ve done it since Day 1,” Tucker explained.
“Panto is casual entertainment, right, and it’s fun because it’s interactive with the audience, but that also creates a risk of improv, including the order of things and how they go on stage. So if you’re using tracks (recorded music) and somebody screws up, then you’re stuck. So that’s part of having a band, plus the sound is better when you can use live instruments.”
Tucker says “Sleeping Beauty” features songs by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and other Motown-era hit-makers.
Written by Stephen Curtis, the two-hour show has rehearsed at Valley View funeral home in Newton and also St. Cuthbert’s church in North Delta.
This year’s cast isn’t as big as previous pantos staged by the company, Tucker noted.
“To be honest it was difficult getting people out (to audition) this year, and we’re still COVID-sensitive,” he said. “Some people told us they’re not quite ready to step out of their comfort zone yet and be part of something like this, so there’s some resistance there.”
At Surrey Arts Centre (13780 88 Ave.), “Sleeping Beauty” will be staged nine times from Nov. 23 to Dec. 4, with both evening and afternoon shows. Buy tickets on tickets.surrey.ca, or call 604-501-5566. For four or more seats, phone the box office for family/group pricing.
Spectators are asked to bring a unwrapped toy and place it under a tree in the theatre, for donation to Surrey Christmas Bureau.