East Van Panto Delights in a Satirical Holiday Laughathon

Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

Have you ever seen a play that left you giggling for days after, to the extent that family and friends think that you must be possessed by the devil of silliness? Has a production ever made such an impression on you that you burst out laughing every time Rachel Notley’s face is on the news?

If not, you’re in luck because the East Van Panto’s latest production, Wizard of Oz, is sheer ludicrous, satirical merriment.

Now in its sixth incarnation, East Van Panto: Wizard of Oz runs from now until January 6, 2019 at the Cultch’s York Theatre (639 Commercial Drive). This production by local company Theatre Replacement is madcap, incredibly creative (as in “how the heck did they even think of that?”), and talent-packed.

Playwright Marcus Youssef, director Stephen Drover, and musical director and composer Veda Hille have put together an absolutely marvelous show. At times, the cynic in me lets out a big “Bah humbug” when it comes to Christmas rituals, but this is one holiday tradition that actually gets me gleeful.

True to its name, the East Van Panto is an inventive meshing of classic panto tradition and local joke insiderism related to East Van. Those who love a good panto can get their full of booing, cheering, aww-ing, and taunting the characters on stage (‘the kids’ in the audience loved this component), but this time the villains are well-known politicians like Justin Trudeau (aka Mr. Selfie).

Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

The play is based on the narrative of Dorothy who manages to inadvertently leave home and spends the rest of the narrative trying to find her way back, along with the help of friends (eg a scarecrow) she meets along the way. However, in this rendition, Dorothy’s home is charming Poco, as opposed to Kansas, and she is transported to the far off land of East Van, where artisan beer munchkins and chicken slaughter houses are part of the local landscape. Pipelines figure prominently in this story, wreaking havoc on Dorothy and those around her. The audience will take delight in cheering Dorothy on as she seeks help from the Great Wizard of OV (Olympic Village), and inadvertently pokes fun at the idiosyncrasies of East Van and Vancouver, in general.

Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

Christine Quintana plays a fabulous Dorothy, bright eyed and energetic, with a passive aggressive undertone of sarcasm. Her vocals are strong, doing full justice to the many musical numbers that Hille has crafted. Hille herself is one of the integral stars of the show, belting out a quirky warm-up number involving sponsors, and giving each scene her all as she plays keyboard and sings on stage. The songs re-envision and re-write the lyrics of well-known pop tunes like Drake’s “In My Feelings” and Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” in completely unexpected ways. Who knew that the CBC could be parodied through Los del Rio’s “Macarena”?

Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

Other notable standout performances include Dawn Petten as a hilarious Gloria Macarenko (Good Witch) and Craig Erickson as a diabolically larger-than-life Rachel Notley (Wicked Witch). Props also go to the Studio 58 students who take part, as well as the very cute Panto Kids who manically dance their little hearts out, thanks to the zany choreography of Amanda Testini.

Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

Above all, the production is an unapologetic and full throttle attack on the audience’s chuckle reflex. It’s basically collective Vancouver catharsis through laughter. And what makes this an enduring East Van tradition is the audience laughing at a distorted, but telling local mirror. Reflected in that mirror are its politicians’ hypocrisies and posturing, its consumerist yoga pants, and its sometimes superficial attempts to be eco-friendly and inclusive. And if that sounds all too complicated and serious, just remember that a simple “booooo” is the antidote to any Panto (Vancouver) problem.

Be sure to check this one out before it comes to a close January 6, 2019. Further information and tickets can be found on-line.

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