The classic story of Sleeping Beauty takes on a twist – as well as a boo and hiss – as it gets the pantomime treatment in the latest Drayton Entertainment production at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse.
Sleeping Beauty: The Panto, which opened this week, plays on the traditional characters audiences have come to know and love, telling the fairytale story of the princess Aurora. King Hector and Queen Hecuba are overjoyed with the birth of the young princess, at least until the evil Fairy Carabossy shows up an places a curse on the youngster: on her 18th birthday, the princess will prick her finger on a mystical spinning wheel and fall asleep for a thousand years.
But will the prince of her dreams be able to stir her from the trappings of a ceaseless slumber?
As this is a panto, there has to be a dame – a man playing a female character – and for this outing it’s Justin Bott as Carabossy. And, given the genre, the audience will be expected to boo the villain at every turn.
That’s nothing new for Bott, whose previous panto roles include Widow Twaddle in Jack and the Beanstalk, step-sister Revolta in Cinderella, evil sorcerer Abanazza in Aladdin, and Nurse Tickle in Snow White.
“There’s always a man dressed as a woman. You try to embody it as much as possible, this character specifically, the thing I’m trying to focus on is the joy of being evil,” says Bott of panto roles.
Figuring out the femininity is one part of the gig, but what is the most challenging is acting evil, he adds, as it’s something that normally people don’t act that way in their daily lives. “They love seeing people suffer and causing harm, so it’s a weird, twisted joy.”
Playing in a panto, Bott also has to expect the audience to make their feelings clear about the villainy – crowd engagement is part of the tradition.
“You get ready to come out on stage and encourage people to boo and when they do boo, you’re not taking it the wrong way but you kind of take as if they’re engaged and enjoying the different characters,” he adds.
Princess Aurora who is played by Erica Beck, brings a funky youthful energy to her performance in Sleeping Beauty. With her background and experience varying from Broadway tours, Stratford shows, and performing at the Mirvish Theatre downtown Toronto, people can expect an amazing performance along with her outstanding vocals.
“She has a voice like no one else’s,” says Bott.
When the princess finally turns 18, the evil Carabossy returns as promised and pricks her finger, with awakening in need of true love’s first kiss. Will that do the trick? And what’s with the two princes, Harry and William?
That’s all part of the dynamic of a panto, says Bott, noting that the archetypes fit into the genre.
The traditional tale was adapted for the stage by Caroline Smith, who keeps many of the original names of characters and plots that were in the story written by the Grimm Brothers instead of basing it on the Disney version.
The production takes a team of talented people to make the magic happen on stage – David Connolly is the director and choreographer joined by music director Nico Rhodes, set designer Jean-Claude Oliver, costume designer Rachel Berchtold and lighting designer Kevin Fraser.
Along with an all-star cast, there’s a 28-member youth chorus that appears in the show on a rotating schedule. The fun thing about a panto is the revised medleys that bring the performance together, there’s a good mix of popular music that is incorporated, explains Bott.
“We have a Taylor Swift song, we’ve got lots of recognizable music. We inject pop culture humour and then popular music as well.”
The humour might extend to Bott’s mastery of his costumes, particularly the footwear.
“I have high pair of two-and-a-half inches – I have never walked in heels that high before. It is a thing I applaud all women who choose to wear them,” says Bott, who has sought out tips and advice from his co-stars.
In keeping with the pantomime, the story is very much family friendly, with an emphasis on fun and laughter throughout the story.
“We love seeing three generations of theatregoers enjoying the panto productions together. It’s a great opportunity to make lasting family memories during the holiday season,” says Alex Mustakas, the artistic director at Drayton Entertainment.
Sleeping Beauty: The Panto is now on stage at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, running through December 29. Tickets are available at the theatre box office, online or by calling (519) 747-7788 or toll free at 1-855-drayton (372-9866).