Thanks for checking out my first independent Toronto theatre review! If you'd like to read about other shows I've reviewed, please check out my Mooney On Theatre author page. Thanks SO MUCH to Flip Publicity for the invite.
Special thanks to Mooney on Theatre! They are a fantastic site with a slew of talented writers. I owe my review writing experience solely to them, and their willingness to take a chance on a theatre amateur. Please go check them out, you won't be disappointed.
I had the chance to see Ross Petty Productions' Peter Pan in Wonderland last Thursday at the beautiful Elgin Theatre, and it was quite an experience.
The show is a sequel to a previous production, and follows Peter Pan, Wendy, a fairy-in-training named Tinkerbum, and a sampling of the usual Wonderland crew on various adventures.
Being my first experience of a Ross Petty show, I wasn't sure quite sure what to expect.
This show has so much going for it. In addition to a dazzling and colourful set, beautiful and creative costumes, flying performers, and a really adorable dog, it has all of the makings of a pantomime: cross-dressing, music, jokes, a unique take on a classic tale, slapstick, and of course audience participation.
I adore interactive theatre, and this show did not disappoint - though our lack of glow wands did (you can purchase them at the theatre). Booing, I was told, is a staple of Ross Petty performances. It was delightful. One of the highlights of the night was a child hilariously heckling from the crowd and Captain Hook's (Petty) response to it. Another was when he emerged dressed as Donald Trump and the adults got a turn (Kevin O'Leary, appearing via pre-recorded Skype video, got even more jeers from the grown-ups). It was jokes galore.
The humour - at times for the kids, at others going slightly over their heads - was another highlight for me. Being surrounded with laughing, heckling, booing children - and adults - was so much fun. My companions had a blast.
What most blew me away was the cast: athletes in possession of ridiculous amounts of singing, dancing, and comedic talent. They flipped, rapped, flew, bent, sang, and performed countless other magical moves - some of them in heels. I can only imagine how the show must have looked through children's eyes.
I found the story to be cute. I'm accustomed to story-driven independent theatre, so it didn't have the depth I enjoy, but I wouldn't see this type of show for that reason. The music was contemporary, and added a layer of humour.
There were a few elements to this production I wasn't thrilled with. The cast was uncomfortably pale. To make that worse, the only two obvious performers Of Colour (in a cast of 16) came out during a Motown-esque sequence (performing "Uptown Funk"). The Mad Hatter (played by the very talented Lamar Johnson) was dressed in what was basically a stereotypical pimp outfit. Cringeworthy. There was a bad Caitlyn Jenner joke. To be fair, I would consider pretty much any joke made at the expense of a Trans woman (or any other marginalized person) bad. I wouldn't recommend this show to social justice activist types without a disclaimer.
The other part I really did not enjoy were the ads. I've never seen an ad during a theatrical production before. Ever. It started with glaringly obvious product placements - which continued throughout the performance - and graduated to actual advertorial pauses. The screen would go down, and 2-3 minute ads would play as little vignettes featuring some of the cast members. The audience even clapped and cheered for them. I found it a bit surreal. Near the end, some two hours later, I just found it annoying.
While pantomime, musicals, and over-the-top drama aren't really my favourite cup of tea, I enjoyed myself immensely. Large, lavish productions can be magical, and there was no shortage of fairy dust present in the Elgin on opening night! This is absolutely a show for families.
If you're like me and you prefer artsy indie theatre, with swears, radical politics, and mature subject matter, this might not be the show for you. If you just want to escape reality and laugh for a couple of hours, and don't mind hearing about CIBC's virtues from a cute penguin, you should check this show out. It's got a ridiculously talented cast and crew - Dan Chameroy's Tinkerbum in particular. It's also Petty's swan song show. Experience it while you can.
• Peter Pan in Wonderland is playing at the Elgin Theatre until January 3, 2016
• You can purchase tickets online, or through the Elgin Theatre box office at 1-855-599-9090
Photo of Dan Chameroy and Anthony MacPherson provided by company