A theatre is not generally considered the place for rowdy behaviour, loud jeering and hollering, and a general lack of anything other than polite sitting. But not so, at the upcoming showing of Peter Pan by On the Spot Productions Fergus/Elora.
Written and performed in the ‘panto’ style of theatre – a British import blending musical comedy with audience participation and elements of improvisation – Peter Pan: The Family Musical Panto is promising to be an uproarious good time for people of all ages.
“It is based on the original novel. Not so much on what the Disney movie did with it. So it’s based on the original novel and panto style,” explained Leigha Bailey, co-owner of the theatre troupe as well as the director of this year’s show.
“That means we encourage people to show up dressed up as their favourite characters. They can shout at the stage, so sometimes the characters will ask them questions, or ask them where they should go. You can cheer for the good guy and boo at the bad guy – in fact, you have to boo at the bad guy. I’d be quite upset with you if you don’t.”
The villains of the show, too, will become quite smug and even goad the audience along if they’re not afforded the infamy they deserve. That shouldn’t be too hard, though, as the bad guy this story would be especially infamous pirate Captain Hook.
It’s the audience participation, says David Tanner, co-owner of the On the Spot and technical director, and the interaction between the actors and audience that make the panto style of theatre a yearly tradition for the troupe. “That’s why I find them so much fun.”
Though based on the classic novel by J. M. Barrie, this is sure to be a version of the story few have ever heard or seen, as the cast at On the Spot Productions came together to transform the 20th century novel into a panto.
That means the addition of modern music, topical humour and references into the hundred year old tale. It’s a kid friendly show, says Bailey, but will still include references and jokes just for the adults too.
“And of course, a panto always has a man dressed as a woman. So our Tinker Bell this year is being played by the famous Ray Kavanaugh, who is always our dame.”
Patrons of previous On the Spot Productions performances are sure to better recognize Kavanaugh with his make-up on. The veteran actor of the troupe has played female characters in six of the troupe’s seven previous productions – most recently as the villainous Ursula in last year’s panto of the Little Mermaid.
As Ursula, Kavanaugh was apparently so effective, he was at one point in the show booed for a solid five minutes by a riled up audience – bringing the entire production to a halt.
“Ursula walked out on stage at the beginning of the second act, and the kids started booing her. And they would not let her go. It was like five minutes,” said Bailey.
Kavanaugh will once again be donning a tutu (or ‘three-three’, as he calls his slightly larger version), tights, bra and wings as Tinker Bell the fairy.
“I go all out,” says Kavanaugh, admitting: “I’m a bit of a diva.”
“He started out as the genie in Aladdin, and he had two lines, and we painted him green,” recalls Bailey. “It was great. And then he started playing a dame in Cinderella the second year. So he played one of Cinderella’s sisters. And now he’s our dame yearly because everyone comes to see Ray. Like I think if I cast someone else in his place I would have a riot on my hands.”
Joining Kavanaugh on stage are Mya Leworthy as the titular Peter Pan. Currently completing a Grade 13 year at high school, Leworthy has starred in such On the Spot Productions shows as Beauty in Beauty and the Beast, and the lead in Little Mermaid.
“And this year I thought there’s no way this girl, who’s been playing Disney princesses for the last two years – well, not Disney princesses, but she played the very princess-y [characters] – that she could possibly pull of a 12 year old boy. I said no way,” says Bailey.
“And you know what? She pulled it right out of a hat. She was absolutely brilliant.”
Opposite Leworthy will be Kitchener-Waterloo actor Jonathan Dietrich. A newcomer to On the Spot, Dietrich will be playing the role of the villainous Captain Hook.
“I told all the guys who wanted to be Hook, I said, ‘You need to make the five-year-old in the front row cry, I want you to be scary.’ And all of the other guys, they gave me scary. But Jonathan made me scared. I was like ‘Wow, this guy’s amazing. I’ll have to tone him down a bit,’” she recalls with a laugh.
Those interested in joining in the Neverland adventure will be able to do so this November. Peter Pan: The Family Musical Panto will be playing November 22-25, with evening performances starting at 7 p.m. and weekend matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at Fergus Grand Theatre Box Office.
What isn’t put back into funding next year’s production will go towards local charities, St. John Ambulance and Hopewell Children’s Home. Last year, the troupe say they donated $7,500 to the two organizations.