Beauty and the Beast gets panto-ed

On The Spot Productions is welcoming a tale as old as time this month at the Fergus Grand Theatre.

A cast of 30 will bring Beauty and the Beast to life for five shows.

Director Leigha Bailey explains this isn’t the Disney version you’re used to, although it will still appeal to children and adult audiences alike. This will be the British pantomime version, which is what the theatre company typically produces.

“It has the same overall storyline of a girl meeting a beast but she has the three sisters that she traditionally has in the original tale and instead of her father selling her to the beast in exchange for a treasure, our Belle is a little more heroic. She goes off to save her family and ends up running into a castle on her way to market to sell some dresses,” Bailey said.

That’s generally another British panto tradition as well, the main character running short on money and that’s what starts the adventure. Typically they run into someone who has far more money than them and falls in love with them. Bailey says it works out so that by the end of the show they always have their money problems and their love problems solved.

A British panto has to be based on a fairytale. This one comes from the original French tale of Beauty and the Beast, written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.

But their version is a spin on the old one.

“This is our best year yet. We’ve got a lot more singing and dancing in this year. Dave [Tanner] and I have been taking dance lessons so we could up our game in the dance department because we’ve never done choreography before. British pantos are traditionally comedy. We wanted to add more of a musical element to it,” Bailey said.

They went to see one of Canadian theatre legend Ross Petty’s pantos in Toronto to draw inspiration. They decided they wanted to bring something similar to a small town for people who may not be able to get out to Toronto to see one.

On The Spot Productions previously produced Cinderella, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk and Sleeping Beauty.

The cast has been rehearsing since September, but for Bailey and Tanner it’s a year-round process.

“It takes us an entire year to produce a play because we do all the music and all the writing and all the costumes, sets, everything is done by just Dave Tanner and I,” Bailey said.

They also rely on a healthy set of volunteers to keep everything running smoothly.

The cast is comprised of half newbies and half returnees. Colin Johnson is back as the bad guy.

“Everybody missed him last year. He’s normally our big bad or our main character because he brings such charisma to the stage and he took last year off. He just made a cameo experience and everyone said the best part of the play was when Colin showed up,” Bailey said.

Ray Kavanagh is also returning as the dame. This year they actually have three dames because Belle has three sisters, which means three times the fun. A dame is a man dressed up as a lady and that’s another tradition for British pantos that you always need to have at least one dame.

She says new audiences can expect a bright show with a happy ending.

“It’s very interactive and very funny. It has a Shrek-type humour where all the kids will find it entertaining, but the adults will also get jokes as well. Some of the music we’ve included touches various time periods because Dave is of the next generation ahead of mine so we actually pull music over a long span of time, so that everyone should recognize something no matter what their age is,” Bailey said.

She encourages everyone to come cheer for the hero and boo the bad guy.

The show is sponsored by 20 local businesses and the theatre group will be giving back all their profits to Hopewell Children’s Homes and St. John Ambulance. Last year they donated $2,500 to Hopewell and $500 to St. John. This year they’re hoping to match their St. John donation and increase their donation to Hopewell.

On the Spot Productions presents Beauty and the Beast at the Fergus Grand Theatre from Nov. 24-27. Tickets are available online at fergusgrandtheatre.ca, by calling the Fergus Grand Theatre at 519-787-198, or at the theatre at 244 St Andrew St. W.

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