Saturday, December 3, 2011
Over the Rainbow with Ross
by Kelly Bedard
Ross Petty's annual Christmas Pantomime has been a beloved event in Toronto for 16 years. I can remember going as a kid and getting to see Canadian legends like Mr. Dressup (Ernie Coombs), Fred Penner, Kurt Browning, Rex Harrington and Karen Kain onstage as absurd twisted fairy tale creatures. It was the thrill of the season (never so much as the year when Aladdin featured household favourite Bret "The Hitman" Hart as a hilariously threatening Genie). We went every year, long past the age when it really made sense for me and my older brother to be there. But that's the thing about the Petty Panto, it's got jokes for everyone, and that camp-happy infectious optimism is even more important for us Scroogy adults misplaced in the audience.
Of the many, let's call them "liberties", co-adaptors Nicholas Hune-Brown and Lorna Wright take with Baum's famous work, one of the biggest is the expansion of Auntie M into an excitable and world-weary, but still fabulous drag queen named Aunt Plumbum (a recurring character from previous Petty Pantos) who gets carried along on the adventure by being in a portapotty at the wrong time. As played by Dan Chameroy, Plumbum easily becomes a crowd favourite (even among the kids, who clearly don't get 90% of her jokes). I adore Chameroy, have for as long as I can remember, and what makes his Pantomime performance so wonderful is that the dashing leading man (known for machismo roles like Gaston and Miles Gloriosus) seems like he's having more fun than all the kids in the audience combined and doesn't give a flying banana about anything but the silly exuberance of it all. There's a great joy to any Chameroy performance, but he's never seemed happier than he does in Plumbum's tacky spandex and insane wig.
The adaptation is a rollicking good time (though I could have done with more inventive song choices- Lady Gaga and "Funkytown"? Really?) and worth the price of admission for the cast's infectious enthusiasm alone. Oh, and any time a chorus of expert male dancers whips out a rendition of "Macho Man", my life gets just a little bit better.