East Van Panto Charms in a 2019 Rendition of Pinocchio

Chirag Naik, Pippa Mackie, Shawn Macdonald (L to R); Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

Now in its seventh year, the East Van Panto, presented by Theatre Replacement, has become a holiday tradition in the city.

On opening night, the spirited cast proved why audiences keep on returning to this quirky take on a traditional Christmas panto.

Running from now until January 5, 2020, East Van Panto: Pinocchio (York Theatre, 639 Commercial Drive) is a musical that will appeal to everyone in the family. In the row in front of me, a little girl was practically quivering with excitement before the curtains parted.

The cast of East Van Panto: Pinocchio: Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

Last year’s Wizard of Us knocked the show out of the Cultch park with its insanely funny antics and over-the-top energy.

This year’s show doesn’t reach those same guffawing heights but, nonetheless, has a similar endearing quality (shared by all the East Van Panto productions) in its ability to connect with and entertain the audience.

Writer Marcus Youssef and director Stephen Drover have taken the classic Italian story and transported it to beloved and eclectic Commercial Drive. In this version, Gelato, who sells (you guessed it) gelato on the Drive, desperately wants a child but is forced to take an animated puppet named Pinocchio as his son instead.

Pinocchio aims to become a “real boy” but must gain a huge number of Instagram followers before that can happen. The panto makes a compelling and emotive case for the value of in-person (versus virtual) relationships and the dangers of becoming too fixated on on-line popularity. Another theme involves the protection of the environment, particularly marine life.

A huge part of what makes the East Van Panto so delightful is its incorporation of local flavour and references into their show. Expect the Drive’s coffee baristas, a local business magnate, the Hastings Racecourse, and popular restaurants and shops to make appearances in the show. Even if you’re new to Vancouver, you’ll enjoy the local spin. As well, never shy about skewering politicians, the Panto also features outlandish caricatures of Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford.

The incomparable singer and composer Veda Hille is again in charge of music and lyrics. Hille takes well-known songs and tailors them lyrically to the narrative on stage. And what an interesting assemblage of songs, it is! Selections include Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye,” Lizzo’s “Juice,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Alexander Hamilton,” and Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings.” There’s even “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” to add some Christmas spirit to the list. Hille injects clever wordplay into familiar pop melodies.

The cast for Pinocchio are a talented bunch, with many of them playing multiple characters who belt out catchy tunes over the course of the production. Chirag Naik impresses as a rapping fairy, apologetic Justin Trudeau, and crooning Michael Bublé. Amanda Sum, meanwhile, tugs at the heartstrings as a well-meaning cricket conscience for the impressionable Pinocchio, while intermittently also playing a boisterous Doug Ford.

Amanda Sum; Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

Finally, props go to Pippa Mackie for her wide-eyed portrayal of Pinocchio, successfully capturing the puppet’s journey from social media innocent to a more self-aware “real boy.” And Shawn Macdonald is definitely a saucy Mademoiselle Fox Cabaret. The local children who participate in the production add to the cute factor of the show.

Pippa Mackie and Shawn Macdonald; Photo Credit: Emily Cooper

Overall, this year’s East Van Panto is a great theatrical outing. In true panto fashion, you’ll find yourself booing and awwwing at the bad and good characters, respectively, as well as getting involved in the action on stage in many other lighthearted ways.

More information  and tickets can be found on-line.

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