Cinderella's real mom knocked off by a food truck, a slipper made by the ethical footwear company Toms, and a couple of wicked step-hipsters – this is what you get when the persecuted princess-to-be moves to Fraser Street.
Theatre Replacement's Cinderella: An East Van Panto is a lively, goofy and utterly charming take on the fairy tale, packed with local references and jammed with jokes that work for children and adults.
An incredibly adept Veda Hille performs the soundtrack live, with fun, changed-up lyrics; for example, Beyonce's Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) is adjusted so the cast belts out: "If you like it then you shoulda put a slipper on it."
Under the direction of Amiel Gladstone, the cast is stellar – especially Allan Zinyk (as the wicked stepmother and a mean billionaire with crazy hair named Ronald Grump; he also pulls off an astonishingly bang-on David Suzuki impression) and Dawn Petten (in a variety of roles including a sidewalk soliciting-for-charity hipster, and the love-seeking prince).
The East Van backdrops by Laura Zerebeski are spectacular.
And Charles Demers's script is, well, a ball.
(Full disclosure: each performance includes a local media, arts or political type called up to the stage and asked surprise questions. Last Saturday was my turn – which was how I saw the show and fell in love with it. I did it last year as well, for Jack & the Beanstalk: An East Van Panto.)
The Globe and Mail reached Mr. Demers – who also wrote last year's panto – at his home in, of course, East Van.
For the uninitiated, what is a panto?
A panto is a mostly British tradition; in some corners I should say a reviled tradition. It's a holiday-time show that is not explicitly holiday-themed. It tends to be a sort of re-imagining or re-telling of one of five principal children's stories: Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, Dick Whittington and His Cat – a story that never quite made it across the Atlantic - and Cinderella. The audience is meant to engage with the performers and it can be a lot of fun watching the actors interact with that energy.
Do you sketch out the story and then pump in the East Van jokes?
That's a pretty close approximation. We decide as a team what story we're going to do, I come back with a scene-by-scene outline. And Veda starts thinking about songs. Then I write a first draft. We bring that into the room with the actors who read through it. We make notes based on that. Ami, the director, plays a huge role in shaping the script. He's also really a dramaturg. One of the nice things about being in the room with everybody is that's where you make certain discoveries. The biggest laugh in the show came from an actor misreading part of the script during the run-through and what they thought they saw was so much better than what I had.
The panto is unapologetically left-leaning. Does that come with the East Van territory? Do you ever have to pull it back?
I feel like there's something in the self-awareness of the panto form, the kind of meta quality of it, that you can kind of get away with it. There's a cartoon logic to the show that I think allows for commentary in a way that doesn't feel as heavy-handed. When [there's a reference to a big B.C. environmental story], if we were doing in any way a kind of realist show, that would be such a moment of heavy-handedness. But in a show where the crowd has been told to boo the bad stuff, it ends up being kind of more fun than anything else. So I think because of the neighbourhood and because of the quality of the show, we can sort of get away with that stuff. You can also legitimately read it as satirizing the neighbourhood to a certain extent. The jokes do reflect my politics, but taken as a whole, I think they also kind of poke fun at a particular East Van type that I would say I'm one of.
How do you figure out the jokes for kids versus jokes for adults balance?
I think the distinction between the grown-up jokes and the kid jokes is something that starts really strong in the early drafts of the script and by the end, they sort of collapse into each other. There are a few bawdy jokes that are certainly meant to go over the kids' heads, but with the exception of those jokes, I think most of them are written so that everybody in the crowd is going to enjoy them. The grownups really enjoy the goofy stuff as well, partly because the smarter jokes give them permission to revel in the sillier bits. And on the other hand, the kids enjoy more of the sophisticated stuff than maybe we initially kind of give them credit for.
Do you get the feeling that this is becoming a Vancouver tradition for the holidays?
I sure hope it is. We all sort of live in our social media echo chambers, so I don't have a great sense of what the sentiment is like in the real world, but in my little well-manicured internet neighbourhood, people really responded well to the show last year. A friend of mine, Ryan Knighton, who's a local writer and denizen and lover of the neighbourhood, took his little girl last year and he said to me there was a moment where Allan Zinyk was on stage and mentions something about one of the women behind the counter at Caffe Napoli. When his daughter heard that, that was more fantastical than anything else – like climbing a beanstalk to the clouds or whatever – the idea that you would see something that would reference someone that you knew at a place that you go to. We happen to live in one of those cities where you can go your whole pop cultural life without ever seeing yourself represented or your home showcased, and I think people are really kind of hungry for that kind of heavily localized experience.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Cinderella: An East Van Panto is at the York Theatre until Dec. 28.